Middle School sucks. Most of us look back on those 2-3 years and thank god we don’t have to do that again. All of us were awkward in some way. Most of us in an outwardly apparent way: braces, too tall, too short, puberty, no puberty and more acne than a McDonalds’ fryer. Any number of unsightly things. My mother has a former student who calls middle school, “the ugly years.” He says, if you look at the elementary yearbooks all the kids are super cute and in high school handsome and beautiful tend to be the descriptors but the only things people see in middle school are awkward and ugly.
Me in 7th grade.Me in 8th grade. You can’t see the see the sweet braces I am rocking but in the first picture I am wearing a t-shirt with flowers across the front and the world’s most intense bangs and in the second.. well it appears as though, those bangs I cut myself.
I remember middle school as a friendless place. A place where I was shunned and I place where I was still a kid but my friends were starting to do very adult things. I never intended to teach middle school because of how awful it was for me. That didn’t work out as planned. So when I got my last year job I made a conscious choice: My classroom would be a place where students could just be themselves.
At the center of my classroom is a sense of belonging. From the highest performing students on campus to the kids who have never succeeded at math all of them stormed my classroom. At brunch, at lunch and after school I continually had students in my room. It was a safe place and a place where 6th graders and 8th graders were treated with equal amounts of respect.
I’d like to think this continued in to my class time. There are intentional things: Our class rule that no one whines about who they are partnered with. Even more than that is that we high-five who ever our partner is. Yes, I understand that that is “lame.” Or how we began class by talking about our weekends, evenings or vacations. I know that there is a lot of ed theory that says you should start class the moment students walk in the door but I think of this as part of it. We are remembering what it is like to be in this space. We are reminding ourselves that this is safe.
There are unintentional things to, things I didn’t realize til my end of the year letters from students came back. How I spoke to them, how I greeted them in the hallways and my favorite, “how even when you were mad at me I knew I could come back tomorrow and it would be okay again.”
Or my student who wrote, “I felt safe with you. I liked being in your room.”
For me middle school was the worst. I hope that in my year of teaching middle school I lessened that feeling for at least one student.