Being in the Middle
Being in the middle, does not mean neutral. It means you are deciding which way to lean; finding out which way to step.
Being the parent of a middle school child is difficult. You want your child to begin to become independent; to do their homework, chores and clean their room on their own, but they are still locked in that self-absorbed world and don’t seem to see the mess. They have shining moments of maturity and you begin to see a spark of the adult they may become. Then, you become irritated with them when they get silly after that because five minutes ago they were just mature. You look at them and you see the more mature body and you think that the mind should follow, but it doesn’t for many years to come. Do you let them sink or swim? Do you help them more? Do you guide or back off? Do they need you? Do you need to be more present in their lives?
Put yourself back to middle school… Really, go ahead… Oh you don’t want to? Yeah, I don’t want to either. But to understand that middle school child, you need to step into their shoes periodically (it’s scary, but remember you are an adult, you can step back out). Remember how incredibly awkward you felt as your body started changing and things started happening all over and YOU DIDN’T WANT ANYONE TO NOTICE!
Can my parents see? Can my friends see? Oh God, a pimple! Oh no, what is this growing here? I must be dying. Does this outfit make me stand out or fit in? Am I ugly? Fat? Popular? A nerd? Where in God’s name do I fit in the social pecking order??????? Why am I crying? Why am I laughing now? Why am I angry? Why am I blah? Why??????????
I want people to see me! I don’t want people to see me! Am I cool? That boy/girl is cute… do they like me? Do they see me? Please don’t see me! Oh lord, here comes my mom/dad… Why are they wearing that? PLEASE DON’T SAY HI TO THE BOY/GIRL I LIKE!!!!!!!!!!! Why is the teacher looking at me? Calling on me?
A middle school student is trying on different outfits, acting nonchalant about things, trying to fit in and be different all at the same time. Keeping up with the changes, the mood swings, the grades, the expectations and all the while, you are not quite up to anyone else’s level. You are not in high school; you are not in grade school. You are in no-man’s land; middle school.
I have been teaching middle school students for 18 years and I have to admit, sometimes their insecurity rubs off on me. It is truly contagious at times. Sometimes, just talking to an adult helps bring me back to reality. I am supposed to teach math, reading, writing, history and science to a group of students whose minds are constantly pinging in a myriad of directions. I have to find ways to bring them into focus and give them a glimpse of maturity and sanity. Some students are able to weather the rocky world well, while others flail. As a middle school teacher, I also consider it my job to teach the students how to be “human” (please, thank you, don’t touch other people’s stuff, look around you and see others’ needs too, clean up after yourself…) and it is my job to teach them to be students. Teaching them to be students involves more than just completing assignments and turning work in on time, it also involves teaching them to think and to be active owners of their education. This is a difficult task, and as only one member of the “village”, I can only do my best when I am with them. As the parents, you too are struggling with all the same things as me, but you get more of the angry, morose child; as all parents do. Believe me, when teacher’s tell me, “your son/daughter is so on top of things and is just a delight in class”, the thought in my head is “you must have the wrong student connected with me”. As a parent, please, tap into the “village”; don’t ride the middle years alone.
In all, the middle years, in my opinion, are the hardest years. You are just hanging there, waiting. Waiting to be older, waiting to be noticed, waiting to grow, waiting to understand, waiting for the pimple to leave, waiting…