I’d like to give a shout out to all my blog readers who are currently parenting a middle school child or who have lived through parenting a middle school child. To say it is hard is an understatement. And for those of you who are successfully on the other side of adolescence, I humbly ask for your wisdom and advice.
I teach middle school. I have for the past 10 ½ years. I thought because of that I was prepared. I was wrong. My perspective on teaching middle school has completely changed over the last year. I thought I’d been a compassionate teacher before. I thought I’d really tried to protect the developing self-esteem of my students. But whatever level of compassion I had before doesn’t even compare to what’s in me now. However much I tried to protect their self-esteem and dignity before is nothing to the amount of “mother hen” I feel toward my students now.
Because when I look at them, I see my son. Sure, some of them are nothing like my son. They have different interests, different strengths, different family lives, different abilities. But they’re all kids, struggling to figure the world out, fighting their way through a transition that’s anything but easy.
I’d like to think that what I feel comes out in the way I treat my students. Middle school kids can be so frustrating sometimes, and I know sometimes I snap at them. I always feel bad when I do. Yes, they need boundaries. Yes, they need strict guidelines. But above all, they need to be loved. They need to feel valued and appreciated. I really really try to give that to them.
It’s what I’d hope my son’s teachers would do for him.
I’d like to think that I don’t beat a kid over the head with his faults. Even though they’re pre-teens, most middle school kids are WELL aware of their shortcomings. You might not realize it if you just look on the surface, but trust me… they know. They know where they fall short, where they’re lacking, and those things loom like a heavy, gray cloud over everything they do. They struggle every moment with feelings of inadequacy. They always feel that they are somehow not good enough.
I know my son is forgetful. He knows it too.
I know my son is many times absent-minded and disorganized. He knows it too.
I know he sometimes shirks responsibility. He knows it too.
What he is NOT is stupid. However, I’m not sure he knows that these days.
Having his faults constantly pointed out serves only ONE purpose. To make him believe those things to be the sum total of who he is. Just like repeatedly telling a child they are pretty or smart or special or kind or good will eventually lead them to believing those things about themselves (as they should), repeated broadcasting of an adolescent’s faults will do the same to them. Cause them to BELIEVE THOSE THINGS ABOUT THEMSELVES.
But you know what else? My son is 12. 12 years old. He is not an adult. He is not still a little kid. He’s in that in between where EVERYTHING is difficult… EVERYTHING is a huge deal… that “not quit here, but not quite there” place where kids are expected to act like young adults but aren’t young adults.
As a parent and as a teacher, I know that one day middle school kids can be so nice… so responsible… so well-behaved… and the next day, they act like wild animals and you just want to pinch their heads off. It’s just the nature of the age. And yes, it can be frustrating, but what I’ve learned from my son is that no matter what’s going on on the OUTSIDE, on the INSIDE they really are trying and really do want to please you.
I hope my son’s middle school struggles… and our struggles as his parents… make me a better teacher.
The bottom line is this. Kids need to be loved. All the time. Redirected and disciplined at times, but LOVED ALL THE TIME. I think we could all use a reminder about that.