I’ve always felt sorry for middle school. Elementary school gets all the love and the blind allegiance of parents and children new to education who embrace everything from fresh crayons to the smell of glue.
The first day of school, playground games and cupcakes-on-your-birthday fanfare all belong to the lower grades. Sure you have to blow a few noses and tie a few shoes but few would argue that most elementary school teachers enjoy a fair amount of love and adoration from the student body.
High school, meanwhile, might deal with a tougher, more demanding class of citizen, but they also have the faint hope they may just be remembered in a Nobel acceptance speech someday.
High school teachers who play their cards right could just end up being mentioned as the mentors who Made it All Happen (right after that athlete or award winner gets done thanking Mom of course).
Many the accomplished artist, athlete or captain of industry wants to thank their high school drama teacher, football coach, English professor or other dedicated soul who lit a fire under them. Rarely do you hear “I’d like to thank my seventh grade social studies instructor … “
Middle school students are gawky and hormonal and sometimes rude. They aren’t cuddly and rarely believe in magic. They don’t light up over story time and absolutely no one wants to bring their mom to show-and-tell anymore.
When my firstborn started middle school I was pretty sure I was feeding my precious baby to the wolves. Never mind these were the same children, en masse, that he had been enrolled with since kindergarten I was sure that middle school was going to warp them, change them somehow — into savages.
Some days, it did. There were the instances of bullying and bravado and the kind of casual cruelty that is practiced and perfected in childhood.
There were also, more times than can be counted, moments of kindness and caring and a kind of searing brilliance that eclipsed forever the idea that everything you need to know you learn in kindergarten (apologies to Robert Fulghum).
In middle school you learn to stand up for yourself. You shouldn’t have to, but you do. You will also begin to learn who your real friends are. The lesson is sometimes painful but always necessary.
Middle school is where the parents and teachers stop holding your hand and start letting you sink — or shine — on your own. Not fully of course, you are prepped and propped and given plenty of lifeline, but in the end you begin to learn that who you are and what you do are almost entirely up to you.
There are newly discovered interests and talents and a flair for the dramatic (of course) which, if properly channeled, can lead to some fairly interesting people.
I imagine a lot of Emmy-winning actresses honed their craft in middle school, mainly in running interference in spats among friends and perfecting their pot-stirring techniques.
“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” I’m pretty sure William Congreve wrote that when he was in the 7th grade. He had probably just told his girlfriend he wanted his sweatshirt back.
I think the people who sign up to teach middle school are a special breed indeed. They work in a thick hormonal haze not of their own making — but one they must survive fresh each day.
No longer needed to wipe noses they will likely wipe tears instead. They will hear more and better excuses from a populace better practiced in lies.
I like to imagine that teaching middle school must be like starting the day with a new script each day and no idea whether you are starring in a drama or action adventure until you take the stage.
The middle. Stuck in the middle. Fair to middling. The middle is hardly a ringing endorsement for anything. This is not to say that there isn’t goodness in the middle too.
There is a joy in the age of being both blessed and burdened with the autonomy of young adulthood wrapped in the sweetness of childhood. As with many things, the middle is where the hard work is. You are no longer fresh from the start nor is the end in sight, the middle is the thick of things.
If Forrest Gump once famously said that life is like a box of chocolates then I have decided that middle school is like an Oreo cookie: hard and sometimes bittersweet, but with a definite sweetness in the middle too.
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