#sol15: March 11, 2015 – Being part of “Being 12”

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My 7th. grade alumni and some of their friends trek into their old classroom every other day for “lunch time review” – which is Room 202 code for lunch time down time. When they were in sixth grade, they’d eat lunch for half a period and then spend the other half in study hall in assorted classrooms around our middle school.  Since their lunch time was also my lunch time, and I was in our room any way, we established our downtime tradition a long time ago: return to home base, read, get some extra help, hang out in the reading area an play board games.  Sometimes, the room is quietly buzzing with industry and my kids are busy with completing projects and getting homework out of the way; sometimes, the room is just this side of raucous.

Since sixth grade meets every other day for writing workshop, and my room happens to  be free on those days…my 7th. grade alumni (without skipping a beat) pick up where they left off last year.

And I feel very lucky to get to be part of their school day for just a bit longer.  Even though they bring with them noise and all the squirmy chaos and nonsense that is middle school: friendship woes and friend group drama, that edge of being mature thoughtfulness which can give way at any moment to goofiness, the inability to sit still or be quiet for more than three minutes at a time, the mercurial vacillations between being ecstatically happy and at ease with themselves which can turn suddenly into dark moods, deep insecurities, abject fear.  One moment they have it together and the next they are a collective hot mess. Middle school.

Fittingly, I’ve been listening and loving WNYC’s podcast this week: Being 12:The Year Everything Changes

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For those of you who teach (or live with) middle school, this is a must hear series – thoughtful, wise, and true.  Middle school is not for every one,  I know this because most people blanche when I tell them I teach sixth grade, and they think I’ve lost my mind when I confess that I actually love it.  But, this series has reminded me of all the reasons why I believe that it is a privilege to teach these guys and spend my week days amidst their chaos.  After all, what could be more important work than helping kids navigate their way through a critical time in their lives, when, as 12 year old Noah Shippey says:

“It’s difficult because you’re learning all these responsibilities for the first time. And none of this has really happened before. Adults, they do that all the time and it’s easy because they’ve done it a lot. But we’re just starting.”

And how amazing is it to be part of that starting process? Very.  Which is what I think as I look out at my 7th.  graders – some of whom are arm wrestling, some deep into a game of cards, some who are spread eagled on the reading rug apparently napping, and the rest who are huddled in a small group trying to work our “some friend group issues”.

Middle school…bring it on!

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24 thoughts on “#sol15: March 11, 2015 – Being part of “Being 12”

  1. 🙂 Just as my son is on the eve of his 12th birthday, had a hot mess of a day yesterday at school (is it hormones?!) and in the next breath becomes a teddybear, your post brings a smile to my heart. He will be moving on to a new school for 7th as his current school only goes to 6th. I think half of his stress is because he won’t be able to do what you just described so beautifully.

  2. I love the mess of middle school too, it’s difficult and important. Maybe that’s why people shy away from it as teachers?

  3. I taught 8th grade and 6th grade for three years and LOVED it. I wish I still taught those older kids. They are a lot like Kindergarteners but more accessible. Your post makes me want to hug you. I have said it before, If you like middle schoolers, you should be teaching them because they don’t get to spend their time with enough people who like them.

  4. Oh, Tara, your love for middle school students shows in every word in this post. “One moment they have it together and the next they are a collective hot mess.” I love them too, and so I created our after school book club, my weekly time to go home again during retirement.

  5. Thank you for this (and I’m still in love with your banner photo – going to keep visiting it until we have our own flowers). My son turns 12 today. I am going to recommend the series to our MS teachers who truly “get” MS students in an amazing way. Thank you for this unbeknownst tribute to 12 on this special day in my life.

  6. Love the new banner, Tara-beautiful promise! And you know I love those middle schoolers, too. Your love shows and the students show their love for you by returning at lunch. How awesome that is that you get to share a few more good words and hugs for them. Also love “But we’re just starting.” Exactly right.

  7. It takes a “special” teacher to understand those “special” kids in this growing up period of life. Bless you and all the middle school teachers, it is not a job for those of faint heart.

  8. I am so glad there are wonderful, patient people like you teaching these tween people. For me, 6th grade is about the max. My favorite age is ten. Give me a ten year old any day and I’m happy.

  9. You are right, Middle School is not for everyone. I have had a chance to teach sixth graders and I know for sure primary grades are my favorites. Hat off to you for the enthusiasm and patience.

  10. Because they come back at lunchtime to be with you is evidence that you are the perfect person to be teaching Year 6. Teaching is about relationship first and they will sort of remember those who taught them the basics about the curriculum but those who sow into their lives at a pivotal point will hold a special place in their hearts. Stories will be told about you Tara! “I remember I had this amazing teacher when I was in year 6………..”

  11. I am the mom of a 12 year old. They are amazing, funny, and sometimes frustrating creatures. I am glad there are teachers like you that love them for the special people they are.

  12. I LOVE your definition of middle school as a “collective hot mess” –laughed out loud when I read it. It could not be more true. Thinking back to my transition between 6th and 7th grade (a switch of schools, a switch of friend groups) it’s amazing how often things change over that one crucial year.

  13. Thanks for the resource. It’s a crazy time in their lives. They are so lucky to have the relationship they have with you. I’m on the edge of this age group teaching 5th So many are older and facing the same issues. They are having to handle so much and for the first time. There is a lot of kindergarten tendencies in them.

  14. Your words make me love those whack-a-doodle darlings! Tara I dance through your words because they speak to the joy you continually live with your “Smithlings”. They will never forget you!

  15. You must be a wonderful teacher to have your former students come back to hang out with you. 11, 12, 13 are such hard ages to be. I missed the junior high/middle school experience since the school I went to was K-8, so 6th graders were in the middle of a school process they’d been in since they started, which always felt better to me than changing to a new school at 12 and another one at 14 or 15. I’m glad your kids have you to keep them grounded.

  16. I love your new picture, Tara, and I LOVE the way you describe middle-schoolers. This part of your post says it all for me:
    “friendship woes and friend group drama, that edge of being mature thoughtfulness which can give way at any moment to goofiness, the inability to sit still or be quiet for more than three minutes at a time, the mercurial vacillations between being ecstatically happy and at ease with themselves which can turn suddenly into dark moods, deep insecurities, abject fear. One moment they have it together and the next they are a collective hot mess. Middle school.”

    Love it. A perfect description.

  17. Tara- You have so captured middle school. I love this age too, even with all their quirkiness and moodiness, and ups and downs. I wish I had a classroom so they could come hang out.

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