Leading 13 Year Olds To Water

Since I’m a Johnny-Come-Lately to teaching, perhaps my observations about “what is” has always been. Okay, I’m just going to say it! A lot of middle school students are functionally needy! Maybe back in 1967, I was the same way. 55 year removed from the awkwardness tends to fog up the clarity of my memories.

Middle school students are socially, emotionally, intentionally, and common-sensiky needy. The pandemic stunted their growth in a boatload of ways. And now they hang around with other stunted young adolescents who are also trying to catch up with the wagon train of youth that has moved on down the trail.

But how do they catch up? I see the confusion evident in many of them. How do they catch up on missing work? How do they catch up when their a missing link in their educational chain? It reminds me of a young guy I had in track a few years ago. He had come around to the end of his third lap in the 1600 Meter Run. The leaders had lapped him, which was not unusual, but when he crossed the finish line after Lap 3, he stopped. He thought he had run four laps and was clueless about what he had missed.

Many of our middle school students are like that. They’re missing something, but they’re clueless about what it is. They are floundering in a sea of uncertainty.

I see it in what they place value in and what has gone by the wayside. An eighth-grader’s mantra is “Friends will come and go, but my AirPods are here for ever.” Come January they will discover how quickly AirPods will make an exit during the school day. One AirPod in a kid’s ear is the updated version of a pierced ear. It’s a fashion statement that also allows them to focus on the consistent rhythm of the music, instead of facing ands talking to people.

I see it in the inability to prepare for tests and finish assignments. It didn’t occur to me until this past week. They had a study sheet with the definitions of poetry terms. They had filled in the answers from the previous day’s classroom presentation. I know they wrote the definitions because they told me to not go to the next slide yet. They were still writing down the definition and explanations. However, I’m pretty sure that only a few looked at the study sheet again before the test was administered. It hit me like the poetic punch of a couplet that I’ll be needing to teach many of them, maybe reteach, how to study and prepare.

The pandemic hit different kids in different ways. Some kids who are academically efficient had a hard time relating to their classmates, while others have become incredible artists but displaying incredible chasms in their core subject performance. Some students are erratic in behavior and mood swings, while others gravitate to whatever was consistently there for them in the pandemic times.

In sports and physical exercise, you can see the wide gap between those who founds ways to develop their understanding of a sport, whether it was by playing on a club team of some kind, having a personal trainer, or having the desire to work on their skills on their own time versus those who discovered the softness of the couch, the ease grip of the video game controller, and the lack of attention from parents who were also trying to figure out what was going to happen next in their lives.

As a coach in three different sports, I’ve never seen such a lack of fundamental skills in so many. Physical exercise took a sabbatical from a lot of students and it hasn’t returned.

And then there’s the behavior, or as I call it, “The tendency to do stupid!” The lobby areas of our school administers and counselors resemble the waiting rooms of ER’s. Johnny threw Jimmy’s backpack across the room because Jimmy wouldn’t share a Tootsie Roll with Johnny. Jenny started a disturbing rumor about Joanie because Joanie hadn’t given Jenny a hallway hug for there twentieth time one day. Judy got caught on security video taking a piece of pizza and smashing it on the hallway floor. My crime back in high school was to skip class one day when Ms. Rolfe was our substitute teacher for a class. I went to the gym and shot baskets. I don’t know if Ms, Rolfe ever discovered my breech of conduct, but I do remember avoiding her for the next two Sundays at church, since we both attended First Baptist Church. She sat on the right side and I veered to the left.

These last several weeks of my classroom adventures have been eyeopening, humorous, as well as tragic. We have a habit of thinking that nothing affects us, nothing touches and alters our inner core and outer actions. The truth, however, is that we are vulnerable, and extremely vulnerable if there is not something in our life that we is a firm and strong anchor.

Pray for middle school kids, and pray for their teachers and administrators who are becoming prematurely gray.

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