The Heartbreak of Middle School

Oh, the pain. The pain. The absolute pain of teaching on Valentine’s Day. There is no place in the world that feels more of an emotional whirlwind for this holiday than the halls of a middle school.

Kids can feel. Strongly.

As Valentine’s Days go, this was a pretty laid-back one for me. By accident, I planned for my students to be silently writing the final drafts of their essays today, so most of the chaos happened in the beginning and ending minutes of class. As a joke, my department created a “middle school bingo” with boxes that said among the following: huge balloons, crying, kids complaining that you didn’t give them candy, kids asking you too personal questions about what you’re doing this Valentine’s day, BIG TEDDY BEARS, etc. I scored over half of them.

There were so many funny moments today, and a few aggravating ones, but it was largely yet another reminder for me that kids feel so, so strongly. That’s always something that I need to recognize every once in a while, because it is surprisingly easy to forget; kids have so much emotion, and it can be really exhausting to be a kid. That can make it difficult to function in school. Hopefully tomorrow will be a little easier on the heart (and less balloon-filled) than today was for some of my students.

Weekly Review

Monday: I put post-it notes on my students’ desks with a note of the missing work they have. I soon noticed a kid who had torn his post-it note into a mustache and put it on his face.

Tuesday: Students are beginning to take student aide forms to me, and although I’m leaving and won’t be taking any student aides next year, it is really sweet to have students want to be with me for another year.

Wednesday: Honestly, Wednesday was pretty awful. My biggest win for the day was carrying a bee out of the classroom on a highlighter and shooing it away.

Thursday: I wore a purple dress today and was asked if I was Daphne from Scooby Doo.

Friday: One of my favorite students had to leave the school district today and move to another district. He marked his last full day at school by wearing a suit and tie.

The Good Thing: Sweetwater Trails

Today was an awful day. Like, a really bad, no good, awful day. There was far too much discipline involved, because far too much discipline was needed, and so much of that discipline felt ineffective. Students were snarky and mean and totally apathetic. By the end of the day, holding in my frustration at defiant and disrespectful students (who were being that way while my principal observed me), I was shaking when the bell rang for dismissal.

I’d planned to go on a run after school, and all I wanted to do was sit on the couch and not move. My friend, another teacher at the school, came by my classroom after school ended. We’d planned to run together, and after slightly exploding with frustration during our conversation, I grumbled that maybe I shouldn’t go on a run.

“Yeah, you should,” he said. “I had a crappy day too. We’ll feel better after the run.”

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He was right. We went to Sweetwater Preserve, which is on the backside of Saguaro National Park, for a short run. It wasn’t my best run, and it wasn’t my longest, but I felt like something had washed clean from my mind when I finished.

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Sweetwater Preserve contains a winding, continuously mixing series of trails and loops, and we took several of them to add up the distance. It was right on the brink of raining the entire run (which, in my opinion, makes the desert look just right).

Most of my day was frustrating and filled with pent-up tension. Less than an hour changed that. Note to self: Do the good thing. Whatever that good thing is for yourself, do that. Do the healthy thing for yourself. Especially when you’re mad, and always when you don’t feel like it.

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Encouraging Change, Seeing Hope

Year: 2

In class, my students are currently reading a book about workers’ rights and the history of protest. Honestly, a big part of why we are reading this book is due to the pressure in education right now to read nonfiction, informational text (I have very strong opinions on why only English teachers are feeling that pressure but that’s a different conversation for a different day). The really cool aspect of this book are the conversations I get to have with students, and I saw that today in a surprising way.

This morning, I began grading assignments that my students had completed while reading part of the book; it was the section that explained the origin of this particular workers’ strike. One question I put on the handout, due more to personal curiosity than anything else, was the following: “What do you feel strongly about in the ‘real world’ that you want to change or support? How would you go about making that change, or making it stronger?”

The answers were incredible.

Now, there were a few silly ones. It is middle school, after all, and middle school is an odd place. One such answer said “I would make a strike that unicorns be real and I’d glue horns to horses.” (I still don’t know if that’s genuine or not.)

Most answers, though, were so powerful and heartwarming. Students wrote about fighting animal testing, finding a cure for cancer, lowering costs of healthy food for impoverished families, fighting climate change, lowering pollution, gun control regulation, teacher pay, deportation policies, government shut downs, tax laws (!!!), and more. These kids are seventh graders.

It should not surprise me that my students are capable of this type of answer. I see their curiosity and awareness in our class discussions. More than anything else, I found it incredibly heartwarming and endearing to read these answers. These kids care about the world around them. They are aware – with the internet, more aware, perhaps, than we were at their age – of the issues our society has, and they are concerned.

I need more conversations like this with my students. I want to encourage their curiosity, but I also find it filled with so much hope to see my students this focused on making the world a better place.

Weekly Review

Year: 2

This week was funky.

I’d been gone for about half of the week (family wedding! yay!), so I only taught two days today. Yesterday was… bumpy. My students did not do any of the work that I’d assigned them while I’d be away, so I basically threw out the lesson I’d planned and made them redo assignments. That’s never fun; it’s boring for students, but it’s mainly a punishment for teachers, honestly. Not a great time. Today, I gave my students the choice between working on the reading individually (silent, calm, largely put together) or partner reading (see: absolute chaos), and most chose partner reading. In multiple classes, I had a “I’m Disappointed in You Mom Tone” discussion about discipline and good work habits.

Some of my kids were pretty bratty: defiant, mean, or lazy. Probably because I’d been gone long enough they somehow forgot that they have an English teacher with high expectations for them? One of my colleagues, who teaches eighth grade, walked out of class in tears because she realized a kid was actively bullying another kid in her class – and absolutely nobody would tell her who was the bully.

There were a few shining highlights, however. Students are put on an improvement plan if they failed the previous quarter, and several of my students on that plan chose me as their ‘trusted teacher’ for helping them succeed. One of my students came running up to me during lunch, tried to teach me a handshake, then patted me on the head before running away. (So middle school.) Another student dance/hopped/snake-charmer-impressioned? away from me after class today, and, while doing so, told me that he would teach me his smooth moves next week. Another student told me that it felt like “a gift from god” that I was back and she no longer had to deal with substitute teachers.

My first impression is that it felt like a funky week, but really, it wasn’t so funky. Basically, this was just another week of teaching. High moments and low moments, with my choice on what to focus on. I’m going to focus on the weird dancing and handshakes – it’s far more fun that way.

Weekly Review

Monday: A former student stopped by my class today at the end of the day to show me something he’d drawn. The middle school way of saying hello, welcome back from winter break.

Tuesday: During a class discussion, a student mentioned something he learned in social studies. He paused during this, saying about halfway through, “in social studies… uh, shout out to Mr. R, in social studies we learned….”

Wednesday: One student finished his work early and, instead of reading a library book as I ask, was sitting and doing nothing. I asked him if he needed to borrow a book and he said no, smiling, and reached into the world’s messiest backpack. I asked him again after a minute of him fishing around his backpack, and he said no again. After a few more seconds of moving around stuff in his backpack, he slowly looked up and asked me, “…. Could I borrow a book?” Such a middle school move.

Thursday: One of my classes got in a heated argument about whether a sloth or a panda would win in a fight.

Friday: Every Friday, I ask my students what was the best part of their week. One student sweetly said that it was my class. Another student said it was getting in a 4-wheeler accident where he flew off the 4-wheeler and it flipped over him. (He neglected to say he’s okay until I asked him. He’s okay.)

The Return

Year: 2

Two days back from winter break!

We are starting the year off running; after a short review, my students are already reading informational texts and writing about them in order to prep for our class text, Flesh & Blood So Cheap, for quarter three. This is really the only way to start the year again, I think. Had I a more sluggish start to the week, I think I’d still be feeling sluggish today.

Before returning to school, I’d fallen into a bit of a mental trap of thinking that I would return to teaching with the same exhaustion I felt leaving it. I’d felt that last year, but that had been my first year teaching, so I can’t exactly trust that as reliable. As the last few days of winter break closed in on quarter three, I felt a bit of nerves that this year would repeat last year.

And although I felt a bit rusty yesterday, but today felt good. My management was smooth, the kids were engaged in discussions, and I had few disciplinary issues. Now, it is teaching – so is tomorrow, the next day, and the rest of the week going to feel sparkly and flawless? Probably not. But I’m feeling motivated and optimistic about this quarter (or, at least, this week).