I’ve started teaching this year—real muck-deep in the trenches kind of teaching—you know, seventh graders. I’d planned to teach criminal justice, but the college gigs out here (New Mexico) are few and far between or require a PhD. So, I decided I’d take a plunge into public schools, thinking high school students wouldn’t be so far removed from the cadets I taught at the police academy. Teaching adolescents never occurred to me, but I was offered a job with a middle school during a school district career fair. I liked the vibe with the principal and assistant principal, and we were all shaking hands before I really knew what was happening. Middle school of all things…never in my wildest…
I was a middle-schooler once, and then I had the two boys. It’s not like I’m unfamiliar with the terrain, but what surprised me from a teacher's perspective is the constant grind to maintain order, as if a riot might break out as soon as I turn to erase the chalk board. There are cliques, incessant chatter, hormones flowing through uncharted territory, boys who believe MMA cage fighting is a dandy career choice, and girls who are flabbergastingly mean to one another.
Those are stories we've all lived, but there’s a new twist. Evidently, one can no longer live without a cellular device. Removing one from a twelve-year-old’s hands after catching him playing something called Fortnite results in tears, rage, more tears, literal stamping of little feet, earnest threats to “sue me for bullying,” and wailing pleas not to use said phone to call his mother.
Look, there are no bad kids in my classes, though there are certainly a few rude and entitled-feeling ones. That said, I’m having a pretty good time. I see myself almost as an out-of-body observer, watching adolescents navigate their way in the world during what must be the most awful couple of years of their lives. I often find myself telling those who are downtrodden that it does get better. Stay the course young one—life is about to become quite a hoot—but you have to learn about cells and Earth science first.
I plan to write about this experience periodically over the next four semesters or so. It’s a fascinating world, chock full of fiercely dedicated teachers and school administrators, a melange of over-worried and cooly-ambivalent parents, and children scratching and clawing their way out of adolescent cocoons. Most importantly, there will be stories of a first-ever taste of peach, a gleeful first experience with magnets, life lessons such as you really can sit next to someone who is not your friend and survive an entire hour, and an awkward, courageous girl asking a boy out for the first time.
After a career surviving emergency helicopter landings, potshots, high speed pursuits, death threats and dark alleys, a near drowning, and a few thousand intoxicated boneheads, teaching 7th graders may be the bravest thing I've ever done.
And, yes, I'm assigning homework--go hug your family for me.