Friday, November 10, 2017

Best Part of Teaching Middle School This Week...

I'm a year and a quarter into my middle school experience, though this time as a teacher. Actually, I'm old enough that my first experience - as a student - with seventh grade wasn't even called middle school, it was junior high. 

I digress.

In my move to middle school I have had friends, parents, and colleagues ask if I regret it yet. Middle school kids get a bad rap. Some of it is earned, I am sure. It's a volatile age. Their hormones are a mess. Middle school is a time to figure out who you are and what you stand for - in doing that work, you are bound to have some emotional meltdowns. But, can I be honest? Middle school kids are real. There is no BS in the middle school world, they call it like they see it. And this week? It has been filled with everything that makes middle school a beautiful place.

Character Lessons We began the week at a low. There was a need for some character building, which came All. Week. Long. After some unsportsmanlike conduct on behalf of a handful of students, some unkindness to others in the hall by others, I started layering our lessons with chances to talk about character. We discussed this quote:

And watched these three videos:

After watching each, over three days, we talked about the message of the video. Sometimes we talked about the lessons we could glean from them, other times we reflected on what we don't know about the weight others carry around on their shoulders. I wanted to open their eyes to what is around them, what they don't see. It was a week rich in conversation.

Reading Community
Our community of readers is new. Many of these kids came having no difficulty in reading, but they don't live and breathe the conversations around books, authors, and illustrators that I know can hook them for life. While each week of the thirteen we've spent together so far offers glimpses of what is to come, two experiences this week made me smile. Both were thanks to author Jason Reynolds. 

Yesterday in my first hour class Slater came up to me as I was entering attendance. He asked a simple question, was Jason Reynolds trying to torture him with the endings to his book. I paused and asked what he meant. Slater went on to explain that he's read four of Jason's books over the past week, and each had an ending that Slater considered "untidy." He said, "I get that he's trying to make me think, trying to make it realistic, but can't he just tell us what's going on once in awhile? Are all of his books this way?" When I admitted that every book I've read of his would likely fall into this category, though I still have two to read, Slater just grinned. I asked if he was going to continue his Reynolds reading binge and he replied with an "Absolutely." 

Today in 8th hour I was doing "status of the class". While I check the kids in, they can sit and read or talk quietly. The room was filled with a low murmur, but I could still easily hear kids telling me what book and page they were on as I called their name. Without warning, a boy named Haiden slammed his book shut as he jumped up and said, "WHAT? You've got to be kidding!" I looked up as the class looked to him. At first I was puzzled, Haiden isn't the type to shout. But then I murmured, "Ah.... Long Way Down?" Some other kids nodded at my comment. Biniam, who had loaned Haiden the book, reached out for it while asking if he wanted to talk about the ending. At the same time, Kalea begged Biniam to borrow the book. He passed it on to her. Community. 

One of my favorite parts of teaching middle school is the humor of these kids. Today in 10th hour, I was grinning. It's the end of the day. The kids are tired. After getting up at 4:30am to walk my dogs and swim at the Y, I was exhausted. And yet, they rocked. We had many items to check off our to do list today. It was a full class, without a lot of instruction time, more of work time. In the front of the room on a couch were two girls. One, KC, was offering up life lessons. She went on to explain to all of us her thoughts on a variety of topics including:
  • Why girls shouldn't date to make themselves happy, they need to be happy with themselves first.
  • Why she planned on staying single for life.
  • How dating would only be fun if you're allowed to wear sweatpants.
  • The benefits of her headband to corral her hair, which is named Cameron (her hair, not the headband).
  • That putting extensions in your hair is a pain, but worth it.
And more. I laughed. I teared up at times. I told her that, hands down, a picture I took of her a few weeks ago (see below) is my favorite picture of the year. It makes me smile and fill up with love every time I see it. She had me show everyone in the front of the class.
I mean, that face and smile? Make. My. Day.

So, after going out to eat with my husband, I had to post for KC on Instagram. And yep, she made me start laughing while I sat there at the bar. 

The week had highs and lows. Frustrations and celebrations. But middle school kids? They are the best. My heart is full.