If you have ever lived in student housing, you understand what economy living is. As such, there is no air conditioning in our apartment. So although I am sitting here sweating behind my knees and melting into the keyboard, I will attempt to work my way through the fog to tell about Back to School Night.
The school I teach at is unusually configured--only 6th and 7th graders. Our campus is split evenly between elementary teachers and secondary teachers, and there is much to learn from the variety of philosophies and backgrounds floating around. Last night I met many of my 7th graders and tonight I got to help register the 6th graders.
It is funny to hear kids spend the whole month of August complaining about going back to school and the end of summer blah . . . blah. . . blah . . . but then, they show up at BTSN totally outfitted in their new trainers and clothes with their hair expertly spiked or straightened. They greet their friends so joyfully you'd think they'd been parted for years. They bring magnets and mirrors and mini-posters of Orlando Bloom to decorate their lockers with. All the time they are effusing emotion, they are trying to maintain the practiced look of indifference--particularly in front of their parents.
At least, this is how the 7th graders behave.
The sixth graders (ranging in height from 4 feet to 5 feet 8 inches) on the other hand, walk into the school with nervous glances around at every kid who passes, fearful that they might actually be looking into the face of one of the dreaded 7th graders. They cling to their parents with eyes wide and anxious.
Tonight I helped assign lockers to various kids. A very simple process made complicated by reading a schedule to make sure they are in the right line to begin with. I could see the kids study the little sticker pounded in their student planner as they rabidly tried to memorize the three numbers, paranoid of forgetting or finding themselves with a minute before class and unable to open it. No doubt, many of these children strutted their elementaries with bravado and style just two and a half short months ago, but not today. Today they are part of the mindless crush wandering the halls of a very average sized middle school in an attempt to make some sense of this horrible thing called puberty.
It struck me tonight, and not for the first time, why I have chosen to teach middle school. No doubt the content of a high school biology or environmental science class would be more challenging and interesting, but as much as I love science I think I must love kids more. Working with 7th graders is somehow therapeutic. I think I am trying to make reparations for a very difficult year and a half in my own life. As I look back on the middle of sixth grade to the middle of eighth grade there are so few bright spots that it is hard to believe I even had existence then.
Of the bright memories, two involve teachers. I will share one and then close tonight. I was a 7th grader who loved to dance and read. But it wasn't cheerleading or reading The Babysitter's Club. No, then I may have had a place to belong. I did classical ballet with a teacher who insisted on dignity and discipline; I read books like Of Mice and Men and Oliver Twist FOR FUN. No, I was not popular. Although I think I probably once had been because I could see that I was on the fringe of a group who seemed to have a lot of friends and be in the middle of everything. I was stuck on the outside with a sickening realization that I didn't actually know anybody out there. I wasn't pretty enough or built enough or rich enough or mindless enough to get back inside. A part of me I hardly dared express to anybody was actually fearful of getting back inside such a group. I thought I had no where to go. And then! A miracle.
A kind teacher who saw more potential in me than I saw in myself encouraged me to try out for a play. Coming from a sportsy family, I wasn't even sure of the procedure for getting into a musical. But I could dance and there was a dance audition. I made it. Again, I think it was the teacher who believed there was more to me than met the eye. I became one of only a handful of 7th graders in the cast and found a niche. Despite setbacks and only an average talent when it came to singing and acting--I was a part of a every play my junior high and high school put on from then on. I had a place.
Wherever Mrs. Stettler is, I would be fairly certain that she has forgotten me. But I hope that her years and years of teaching have been rewarding to her and that she is blessed every day for the good she sent into the world. I could write a list here that spanned another paragraph or two, but their names will mean little. So instead, on this hot, dark night I send out a message asking you to take a moment to remember a teacher who meant the world to you because they showed the world to you. If you can, find a way to actually thank that person instead of just virtually. And if you cannot, then find a 12 year old to be kind to. They really need it.