At times, seeing the diversity in my own students, I’ve wondered who I was when I was in middle school and what really drove my tween’s brain. So I created a Tip 10 list of memories to help me reflect and better relate to the brains of my students.
Need help jarring your memory to do your own reflection? See my free downloadable. After all, remembering what had the greatest impact on you when you were a student helps you become a better teacher.
1. Zits. I remember waking up to find what I was sure to be the mother of all zits taking up residence on my cheek. I tried everything to hide it including putting gobs of blush on my left check to balance the red on the right one. As a result my counselor pulled me into her office and asked, “Heather, honey? Are your parents treating you alright?” The abused child look. Not what I was going for.
2. Laughing. I don’t remember what the boy whispered next to me. Looking back, I’m sure it was not that funny. But I remember laughing so hard during Mr. Canon’s 7th grade English class that I literally shot the grape I had been eating out my nose at the person’s head in front of me, eliciting an “Ow!” from the student and a threatened detention from Mr. Canon. I talked my teacher out of giving me detention, and learned that I could talk a teacher out of anything so long as the debate took place right before lunch.
3. Boys. John, Sam, David, Nick. All of them crossed my mind one time or another. Notice, however, I didn’t mention the quiet, football-playing, Dungeons and Dragons guy in the corner who, incidentally, I ended up marrying in 2002. Clearly we can’t bet on how our tween students will turn out based on who they are in middle school. Socially, academically…they aren’t a closed book already.
We can’t bet on how our tween students will turn out based on who they are in middle school. Socially, academically…they aren’t a closed book already.
4. Friends. Jenny, Irene, Josie, Lola, Cathy, the list goes on…some of them I didn’t even like much, but I still considered them friends. Frenemies, forever, right?
5. Fashion. I was in middle school when Cindi Lauper and Madonna both burst onto the scene in their bustiers, toile skirts, and rubber bracelets. My parents wouldn’t let me have the black rubber bracelets everyone was wearing, calling them “trashy.” But Cathy let me borrow up to 10 of them per day from her wrist-to-elbow stock. She was like a fashionista librarian, requiring formal check out procedures if you were going to borrow her bracelets. Looking back, my parents were probably onto something.
6. All The Right Moves (1983). “All the Right Moves” was an early Tom Cruise movie about a young man in high school who played football, trying to get out of his small town. Whatever. All I remember about “All The Right Moves” is glimpsing a certain part of the male anatomy on screen for the first time. My friend Lola rewound that tape so many times that even the 13-year-old girls at her sleepover got bored.
7. An Unsupervised Party. I was in 8th grade when I attended my first unsupervised party. I remember being surprised upon my arrival to find that there was no adult present. However, I was not so horrified that I called to be picked up again. It was there that I saw my first joint, and while I turned it down, I was the only kid who did. Everyone else at the party was from, what you might call, “The good kids” clique, according to adults. They were the A and B students, cheerleaders, athletes, churchgoers, whatever. They were the winners of the Citizenship awards, the Penmanship awards, and the Perfect Attendance awards. One of the boys asked me if I wanted to have sex. I said, “no thanks.” He rolled his eyes and asked if I was planning on holding out until marriage. It seemed to me, however, that there was a lot of time between 8th grade and marriage to make that decision. Passing on the dope probably knocked my popularity points down a notch; but passing on 8th grade sex probably saved my popularity points from plummeting.
8. Family Differences. I remember sitting on the curb at school, waiting to be picked up by my carpool, when a mom pulled up to pick up her student. She drove up quickly, bumping up onto the curb near me, and stumbled out of her car. She was drunk. “Do you know where Tim is?” she slurred. I shrugged, remembering wanting to buy some time. She stumbled off to look for herself, while I went running to a counselor. But by the time the adult and I got back to the car, the kid had already been picked up and it was gone. It was one of the first times I remember thinking, “Boy, have I got it good,” understanding, really understanding, that many kids weren’t lucky enough to have the home life that I did.
9. Independent Monetary Decisions. Middle school was when I first found myself able to make my own decisions about money and purchases, and it also happened to correspond to the explosive appearance of the local mall. At the mall, I could spend what little money I had on the latest Prince cassette or on a Hot-Dog-On-A-Stick with some friends. I was an independent gal on the town.
Now, so far, nowhere on this list do you see a mention of anything really school related, do you? Well, I do have one academic memory, coming in at #10 on my hit list:
10. An A on an Essay. In 7th Grade I discovered adjectives. I confess that even though I had heard the word “adjectives” ever since 3rd grade, it wasn’t until 7th grade that I really understood what they meant and how to use them. I was writing an essay on ballooning and I wanted to describe the hot air balloon. I had this eureka moment, and I thought, “Hey, what about those adjective-things?” I got an A on the paper, but the feedback I received was the comment, “Too Descriptive.” Sometimes teachers just don’t recognize the true learning.
Want to challenge yourself or your K12 staff to have more empathy for your students? Have teachers and admin from any grade level conduct a reflection using some of the questions on this free downloadable.
Remember, who you were as a middle schooler may have contributed to the person you are now, but it was never set in stone. Keep in mind that middle schoolers are programmed to make mistakes and make bad decisions. A teacher, a tweenteacher, helps them learn from them, shake off the guilt of having made them, and moves them ever closer to being the person they are meant to be.
By the way, this post is an excerpt from my book, Tween Crayons and Curfews: Tips for Middle School Teachers. Looking for advice on how the tween brain works, how to develop a tween-centric classroom, or ways to academically challenge and engage our middle school clientele? Check out my book at Routledge Publishing or on Amazon.