Entering The Middle School Zone

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension – a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into… the Middle School Zone.

Imagination and stamina? Check.  Content area expertise? Check.  Patience, sense of humor?  Check.  Seems like all systems are go for lift off. Right?

When I crossed over ten years ago, I was a traveler unprepared.  I thought my instructional trunk was well stocked with tools and texts and other tricks of the trade.

Can you spell gullible?

 Then I entered the middle school zone, where the hallways are loud and messy and arms and legs are everywhere.  Pink hair extensions and the unmistakable aroma of Axe.  Tears give way to laughter then to tears again. Alliances and entourages shift hourly.

Every cliché you have ever heard was undoubtedly coined in a middle school corridor: mountains are mole hills, haste is making waste, books are being  judged by covers, watched pots aren’t boiling, the enemy of an enemy is a BFF.

In this simmering stew of emotion and hormones, America’s Strongest show up each day in the hopes of sharing our passions for our respective content areas.

We are part-time performers, part-time psychics and full-time practitioners, full-time scholars.  It also helps to be selectively deaf, to know that One Direction is not a road sign and to have a very thick skin.

And once we get over the fact that middle school kids still fall out of their chairs, still cry when they are frustrated or scared, shout all the time except when you ask them to read aloud, we can get started on instruction.

But wait….there’s more.

For my science colleagues, here is a content area analogy: Middle school kids defy every law of physics: they are an inexhaustible source of energy and no reaction is ever appropriate. They are spontaneous and have yet to develop verbal filters.  They are surrounded by alternating currents composed of rebellion, insecurity, immaturity and inexperience. They want desperately to be taken seriously even as they act ridiculously.

 But they also are capable of  thoughtful, sensitive discussion. They are learning–the hard way, by experience– harsh life lessons about friendship and heartbreak. They are beginning to see that achievement comes only with hard work and patience. Being part of this growth every day is every bit as important as delivering content area information.  Success in guiding kids to independence, responsibility, self respect, patience and kindness doesn’t translate to numerical calculations, though.  When data shows that middle school test scores unilaterally decline, no one takes any of this other “stuff” into account.

Middle school is everything Rod Serling described in the Twilight Zone and then some. And we are middle school teachers: America’s Strongest.

Appreciating the Everyday

Friday evening gave me one of those moments when I attended the opening at a gallery featuring an old friend’s photographs.  The images were crisp and clear and exposed perfectly.  Moreover, so many of the photos were familiar places, simple, beautiful scenes others had no doubt passed and dismissed, or more likely, passed and simply ignored. Yet, seen through the right eyes, these everyday scenes made me smile and lowered my blood pressure even as they took my breath away.

This celebration of the everyday was a call to appreciate my own everyday: my husband’s spontaneous laughter, our children’s personal and professional success, the easy company of good friends.  This is the stuff that life is made of, but like the scenes in the matted photos in the gallery, this is often the stuff we take for granted just because we see it every day.

In his professional life, this photographer captures the tragedies of human existence: car wrecks, house fires, death.  But that’s business; the photos in the gallery, those were pure pleasure.  And that someone can be this close to disaster daily and still maintain this incredible eye for beauty, that inspires me.

The lesson?  There’s always a lesson, right? After all, I am a teacher.  So much of life is about what we see.  See it.