When I was in middle school, I will admit it - I was silly. There was actually a club called the “Spaz Club", which my friends and I made up (I was vice-president though we didn’t every hold actual meetings that I remember!) I had an interesting fashion sense, as many of my peers did: think pegged jeans - folded over and fastened with safety pins to make them skinnier, tucked inside socks. It was a good look.
We had competitions in class to see who would dare to say “penis” louder. Somehow, it was hilarious to say that word. I’m sure we did and said things that our teachers laughed, cringed, or shook their heads at. There may have been also things that they were pleasantly surprised at hearing.
Though times have changed, the quintessential middle school student sense of humor and honesty has not. These overheard comments are what make them cute, lovable, and obnoxious all at the same time:
Student A: “There is NO hope.”
Student B: “Good that you are realizing this now.”
Writing prompt, by a student for Creative Writing Club: “Write about the adventures of Spongebob and his pals”
Me to student during marshmallow-burning experiment: You've never had a S’more?
Student (who is Cambodian): Nah, I’m black!
Me: What do you mean?
Student: I’m black. That’s white food.
After sharing highs and lows of winter break in advisory where my co-teacher says she saw her sister-in-law, who is pregnant, a student says, “Oh yeah, I know ALL about that process. My mom told me everything. Want me to tell you?” (I said no)
“Why is there no ‘social’ in social studies?”
“Dude, we’re at the anus table.” from a student in science class, laughing in that dorky middle school way. As I look around I see each table is labeled with a step in the digestive system. And he is, indeed, at the table labeled "anus".
Gotta love middle school.
I'll keep compiling for a future post. In the meantime, what are you favorite overheard comments by students?
(This is a re-post from fall 2014 from my former blog site)
When I tell people that I teach middle school, the response I most often get is, "God Bless you!". The middle school student is indeed an interesting age to teach. It's an in-between age, full of insecurity, exuberance, giggles, tears, impulsive behavior, and insightful moments. While this is what makes it especially hard, it also makes it wonderful. I learn a lot from my students and am often inspired by them. However, more often than not there are lots of cringe-worthy moments.
There has been plenty written about what people would tell their teenage selves. I have been thinking a lot about what I would tell my middle school students, present and past. Here's my top 10:
1. It gets better, not worse after middle school. The test you took today and failed, or the boy who won't look at you, the horrible school picture or that embarrassing moment in PE class - all of that will fade into the background and stay there. When you come back to visit us when you are a junior or senior in high school, your transformation is usually amazing. You actually do become young adults. There is hope!
2.This one is for the girls, especially: You are beautiful. Even the girls going through "awkward" phases. You glow, you have energy and spirit. Be confident, love yourselves!
3. Axe, sprayed in huge quantities on your person, does not smell good. I don't even like it in small quantities.
4. Please take a shower. Daily.
5. Have empathy. Your teachers have lives, too. Be nice to your classmates. Think about people other than yourselves.
6. Another one for the girls: SPEAK UP in class!! I wish I had done that more when I was in school. It took attending a women's college for me to begin doing this.
7. Farting, burping, or yawning with a loud noise is NOT cute. It was maybe cute or funny when you were little. Not anymore.
8. It's polite to say hello to us: in the hallway, or at Target. Even if you run into us in the tampon aisle. We will say hello back.
9. Students sometimes say to us, "Mr.so and so hates me!" I tell them that teachers don't hate their students. Any teacher who HATES a student probably shouldn't be teaching anymore. Are teachers annoyed by students sometimes? Yes. Are teachers frustrated by them? Yes. Do we HATE them? No.
10. We believe in you! We want you to do well. We want you to be successful. We have high hopes for you! We try our hardest to reach every one of you. We love to see you grown up and being amazing when you come back to visit us. So, do come back! It puts a smile on our faces and gives us hope for our jobs and faith in youth.
I never wanted to be a teacher. In fact I wanted to do anything but teach. As the child of lifelong, dedicated teachers, I saw my parents deal with the day-to-day challenges and the pure exhaustion of teaching. While I knew teaching was also very satisfying for them, I did not want the teaching lifestyle for myself. I thought about several other options: Could I be an artist? a psychologist? a writer? something vague but interesting and mysterious with the United Nations?
My life very literally changed one night when I was living at home after college. I had moved home to save money to travel to France, possibly to live for a year and perfect my French. My mother took me to see author Jonathan Kozol speak about education. His lecture flipped a switch in me, and as we walked out of the auditorium, I turned to my mother and told her that I knew I needed to teach after all. My mother convinced me to still go to France, which I did. But when I returned, I moved to New York and looked for teaching jobs. Without a Master’s degree, teaching certification, experience, or even one education class under my belt, I was lucky to get my first job teaching French at a private all-girls’ school in Manhattan. My strict old-school French supervisor and the Head of School took a chance on me. It was a great school to begin teaching: with small classes, few discipline issues, a lot of financial support for professional development, and some fine mentors and colleagues, I came into my own as a teacher.
We moved to Amherst after I was offered a Spanish teacher position at the local middle school. I had an average of 120 students a year, and with 2 preparations and 5 different sections, I learned to manage my time well and I hoped I was becoming the kind of teacher I wanted to be: empathetic, holding high standards, fun, and providing meaningful instruction to students.
I teach to try to be the kind of teacher I needed (and I was lucky to have some). I teach because my ELL students need someone who will advocate for them. I teach to impart my love for learning. I teach because I believe I need to get my students to think critically and to learn about social justice. I teach with the hope that my students will get excited about learning and see the value in it. I teach because I love the subjects I teach and I want my students to love them as well. I teach them to write because I know how important it is to know how to write well and I hope that it is a skill they will develop and love. I teach to show other worlds and possibilities to my student. I teach because in an era of high-stakes testing, top-down administration, and teacher-blaming, when I see the smiling faces of my students, nothing else matters.
Why do you teach?
As a middle school teacher, I am immersed all day long in the worlds of 12-14 year old people, like it or not. On one hand, it keeps me young. You have to have energy to keep up, you have to show your goofy side in order to connect, and it helps your "coolness" factor if you know a little about current American pop culture.
On the other hand, there is definitely a divide (thank God) between the students and me, and there are times when I feel my former student's words in my bones: "You're MAD old Ms.Lopez" (I might have been around 42 at the time). This is never more apparent than when I hear or see certain things at school that I just don't get, like:
- Selfies in the bathroom - what is that about? And why is every pose they take almost identical: mirror in front, hand help up diagonally, head tilted to the side, hip to the other side?
- How is being a "Youtuber" an actual thing? Can you put that on your resume? Maybe if we put our lessons on Youtube, our students would be more engaged.
- Why do middle school students come into class and say, "Can we just take a nap today during class?" or "Are we doing something fun today?" Um, no, we are doing a lot of really boring crap. Sorry.
- Why is it fun to turn the middle school hallway lights out during passing times?
- Why "friend" or "follow" someone on social media if you don't say hello to that person in the hallway and they never acknowledge your presence either?
- Why are bodily functions ALWAYS funny in middle school? And why do the teachers find it just as funny? Last week Ms.W., the science teacher in whose class I do ELL support, has her tables labeled, each one as part of the digestive system. Our team had gotten together for a meeting, and we happened to sit at the "anus" table part of the digestive system. We could barely hold it together for the 50 minutes that followed. And when the students noticed it in class, we laughed right along with them. After all, you have to have a sense of humor to do our job.
Teachers, what puzzles you about your students?
When this vacation started 9 days ago, I had BIG plans. I would tackle one area of the house a day. Closet by the front door, day 1. My closet, day 2. Other planned projects included: clean the basement play room and rid it of the toys that have been there since the kids were 3, 4, and 6. Paint my daughters' room, finally. Also, we were going to have a "Stay-cation" - visit all those places in our area that we haven't been to: The Emily Dickinson house, the local planetarium, etc. Oh yeah - also? I was going to walk every day it was nice out - and that was a lot of days.
NONE of that happened.
Although I did manage to do some of the things that had been on different lists for months (dentist, fingerprints as required of teachers now, some correcting for the class I am teaching for teachers), the rest of my list, including the stay-cation, faded daily as if written in disappearing ink. At first, I felt guilty. I should be taking advantage of the time off! I should be more productive! Do those things I have been meaning to do!
After a day of feeling this way, I finally decided to give myself permission to just be. I binge-watched TV shows. I puttered around the house in my new bathrobe, I read, I cuddled in bed with my kids, I watched movies, saw friends. I napped - every day. I stopped worrying and beating myself up for not always doing.
Sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to take a complete break from the daily exhaustion of early wake ups, the stress of getting everyone out of the house, being with students all day, running after school clubs, shopping, cooking, cleaning, correcting, exercising, driving our kids places, appointments, meetings for all the things we do outside of school, checking in on or caring for parents, helping kids with homework, pets, the house, the cars, bills, and so on. Of course, there are many who can't ever take a break, or don't get enough time to recharge, and I really am thankful for the time. But teachers everywhere also know that we need that time to do what we do.
All those things that need to be done? They will get done, one way or another. Tonight I can go to sleep knowing I spent time with my family and friends, and recharged myself - hopefully at least enough to make it until February vacation.