Oct 5 2013

On Middle School

Confession: My past life was spent as a middle school teacher. I worked primarily with 7th graders, the middle of the middle. Typically, this elicits that intake of breath people make when they want to say something but may gag too. I got lots of sympathetic looks and comments.

But. You know what? I loved it. It was stressful, and smelly, and exhausting. But it was awesome. I was part of watching identities form and young people getting a larger sense of the world and brains forming new ways of thinking. I was part of some great stuff. And in part, it was something I realized not everyone could or would do it. And more, not many could or would do it well. I used to joke that if you could teach middle school you had a civic duty to do it. I kind of think it’s not a joke now.

Recently, Magda of AskMoxie posted about the challenges of parenting a middle schooler. And, my friend Kathryn of Designing Around had a similar post.

It made me think about some things.

One.
I have experience in this arena and, more, comfort there and those seem to be a rare enough commodities. Every parent enters the realm of middle school adolescence (whether in a traditional school setting or not) and it’s new waters every time. Being an adult that sat in that mess with 1000 middle schoolers and lived to tell the tales is special.

Two.
That experience could be useful to the world even if I’m not in the classroom and even if I’m not parenting a middle schooler (yet).

As I went on maternity leave I was finishing co-authoring an experience-based article on social dynamics in middle schools for a journal my school published with the University of Chicago. My co-author was a fellow history teacher for the 8th grade. We spent as much time talking about dynamics as we did talking about teaching history. That’s a lie. We talked about social stuff WAY more.

I have copies of the journal in my house. But I wasn’t doing much else with it. So, when these flares of “WTF” went up about middle school, I wanted to do something, say something, share something. So I sent the article to Magda as a reference point for what I might be able to share. Here are the disclaimers I sent too:

1. I taught at a very progressive school.
2. That means there was a premium put on social/emotional health and growth.
3. I realize not every kid gets to go to a school like the one I taught at and very likely not every kid would flourish there but I do think there are universals…the autonomy/dependence thing, the different heights of boys and girls, the wild span of brain development, the pressure and fear parents feel, etc.

Here’s our article on the way kids define social structures in middle school. I’m pretty proud of it.

Powerful vs Popular
Schools: Studies in Education © 2012 The University of Chicago Press

My co-author was an 8th grade teacher (and phenomenal blues musician). We envisioned a series of articles examining what the hell is going on in middle schools (and in middle schoolers). Then I had a baby and decided to transition to a job at home and Rob headed to LA. Timing sucks sometimes but I’m not convinced we’re done collaborating.

And, perhaps some future posts are a-comin’. I’m always happy to talk, swap notes, share experiences, or talk parents off cliffs. Seeing two strong, smart, awesome moms I know in real life and not in real life look at middle school life with their eyebrows up  makes me want to talk about middle schoolers more. To say, as I said before, middle school is not the age to survive or get through but instead a complicated root system that requires attention and diligence and time, time, time.


Apr 12 2012

Delayed Gratification

Many moons ago I received a grant from my old school to write about middle school life with a favorite colleague. We take middle school seriously. It’s not the age to survive or get through but instead a complicated root system that requires attention and diligence and time, time, time.

So it’s funny that writing about it took a similar level of delayed gratification.

My colleague is a well-respected Chicago Blues musician. Yes, while most of us try to eek out one career, he has two. He’s also a brilliant chef. And a great writer and a great pal. Scheduling writing was hard. We received the grant in spring 2010. That summer I was living in Iceland for a month (you can read about it here) and he was be-bopping all over the place. We figured out ways to write together using every Google thing imaginable (which I explored here). Had Google Teleport been an option we would’ve tried that. We got a good base and then were slammed with typical start of school insanity (note: I spent the first week of every school year for a decade wondering how the hell to teach). Things settled down and then I let on that I was, ahem, many months pregnant. So we edited when we could as fast as we could. Baby came, baaaaaam, life is totally different. Time moves at a different pace. Things like focusing and paying attention are tasks unimaginable at times.

But we pulled it together, had our piece peer edited. And edited. And edited again.

And today! Today I saw this:

See that?
No? ZOOM IN.

On page 73? That’s me.

I’m published!