Middle school is one of the most awkward stages of life. Bodies are changing. Classes are challenging. Kids can be mean; friends can be meaner.
For the past three summers, I have basked in the glorious awkwardness of middle schoolers. I’ve worked with fifth through eighth graders, talking to them about their changes and challenging them academically, and teaching them to be kind — to themselves and each other. I have led them in 80′s aerobic exercises and seminars on marketing. I wore costumes and danced on tables during the big Saturday night dance – to show them how to love themselves (and deflect rude comments from the kids whose clothing makes them stand out; no kid ever looked as weird as I did). For three summers, my love of middle schoolers has grown and grown and even caused me to apply to TFA — to continue working with kids during some of the toughest years of their lives.
About a month ago, however, this love came crashing down. I covered for a middle school art class, and all I could think was, “Thank goodness these are not my students.” The kids were off the walls — doing anything & everything they could to get attention. Their awkwardness manifested itself in destructive behavior, and it took me a while to even remember my management techniques. I behavior narrated them back to a calmer level…but even so, I felt exhausted after forty-five minutes. How did I ever have the energy to spend summers with middle schoolers?!
This past week, however, I wandered into John Marshall’s 8th grade science teacher’s classroom after school, only to find a crew of 8th graders doing work at one of her lab tables. In that moment, something clicked. I laughed with them, getting excited as they showed me their science experiments. We fed off of each other’s energy, and I saw what I loved about middle schoolers. They’re still big kids. They’re not too cool yet, and neither am I. We click.
I may teach high school, but I see how much I gain from interacting with younger kids. I need to tap back into that energy source, and I need to bring that love into my high school classroom. With middle schoolers, I found a way to be unabashedly nerdy. I need to bring that energy into my classroom, too.