Thursday, December 6, 2012

It's Only Middle School...

This is one of those phrases where I could say, "If I had a nickel for every time I heard.... I'd be rich!"  I hear about it only being middle school in so many different contexts.  Recently, some of my friends and I have been talking about this generation- where we lost them, what happened, what we can do about it, etc.

I can't tell you how often I hear the complaint that middle schoolers think that they're adults from people all over this nation.

Well, no, they're not adults.  They're children, or adolescents, or youth, or whatever other term you find applicable.  Do they sometimes think they're 'grown'? Absolutely. Are many of them forced to grow up before their time? Yes...too many.  This, my friends, is the crux of my post.

Far too many of the kids I work with (when I'm paid and when I'm volunteering) are old before their time.  Generally, it's not their fault.  It's the cancer that has affected them or their siblings.  It's the gang violence, murders committed by family members, family members that are murdered, parents leaving, parents generally being crummy parents (a lot of my kids live in children's or boys' homes), family members in jail, living in childrens' homes, true poverty, immigration issues, illness of guardians, and so forth.

We hold them to such a double standard.  We expect them to act rationally as adults, when in reality, their hormones are raging and it is literally impossible for them to be level-headed.  We expect them to make mature decisions, to do their schoolwork and make school high on their priority list.  We expect them to act politely as (most) adults do in public, to use their manners,  and to be well-spoken.  We expect them not to cave to negative peer pressure.  We expect them to ask when they need help or someone to talk to.  We expect them to deal with their issues in healthy ways rather than adopting unhealthy coping mechanisms.  In short, we expect them to be the model of a well-adjusted adult.

On the flip side, we think they're too young to wear make-up.  We think many of them are too young to be dating, too young to be exploring their sexuality, too young to be parents, too young to be experimenting with drugs, alcohol, and other social temptations.  We think they're too young to get away with speaking frankly to an adult as if they are adults.

We think they're too young to have such heavy burdens on their shoulders.

We think about them often.  Yet what do we do? What should we do? More importantly, what can we do?

I'm speaking for myself here, but these are some of the things I'd like to do:

~to give them a chance to be young in my classroom
~to post more inspirational quotes
~to teach that beauty is much more than skin-deep, and that make-up sometimes makes you less beautiful
~to connect as much of our curriculum to their lives and their background knowledge as humanly possible
~to teach that your words can be much more impressionable than anything you wear or do
~to teach and demonstrate manners, respect for others, and how to deal with conflicts
~to open up with my students and let them know that school really can be a safe haven- explain what it's done for me
~remind them that at least for 8 hours a day, they are safe.  It is seasonally appropriate inside, they are given breakfast and lunch and food for the weekends, those that need it are given school supplies, toiletries, and clothes.  We have adults whose job is to protect our students.
~to make them laugh
~to show that learning is fun, and that it never ends
~I pledge to better show my students that I don't know everything, to let them see me research, and to more often think aloud for them.
~ to love them with a Mama's love, all of them -- For me, this is the biggest task.  Love a child that seems unloveable, provide for them even when they make you want to scream and pull all of your hair out, and teach them academically and socially regardless of what happens.

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