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Lessons From My Middle School Son

Today's guest blog is written by Lisa Meade, a middle school principal in the Corinth Central School District in Corinth, NY.

As a middle school principal, I often learn lessons from the students I am fortunate enough to work with, as well as the staff that I work with side by side. Middle school life is an awkward age for students. It comes with so much storm and stress. To some adults, the storm and stress is too much. To me, the middle school years are exciting and full of change.

If we listen closely enough to the children we work with they often have something powerful to share. The students of today's middle schools are growing up in a time like no other. Being a middle schooler, and dealing with all that adolescence brings with it, has always been tough enough.

But...

Add the impact of social media on top of that...

Pour on an additional serving of new, higher standards and high stakes testing...

Sprinkle on that staff in schools are charged with doing more with fewer resources...

Certainly both the adults and students are juggling more than ever before in our schools. It's a wonder anyone can employ a growth mindset (Dweck. 2008). How can we grow at the same time we are spinning through different standards, more accountability, and changing mandates?

Our profession has changed.

In December 2013, Peter DeWitt wrote a column about stereotypes. He wrote about "Jack." DeWitt reminded us that, as educators, we have a moral responsibility to practice acceptance over tolerance. It was an essay that impacted my approach immediately, and had me seriously evaluating my own methods with children. 

Recently, among my son's schoolwork, I found the following note:

"How would you like to go to school every day and be stereotyped because of your gender? You probably would not. Stereotyping is cruel. Many people around the world are affected by this topic. Many children grow up with the wrong idea and think that stereotyping is okay. We should change that. Many students experience stereotyping every day. 

I know an elementary student who was stereotyped every day. This student is not like the other boys at his school which results in bullying. You would think that a teacher would help the student. But, the teacher refused to help and makes the remark "to stop the drama". The teacher repeats not helping the student which results in the student moving schools. We now see that it can be caused by adults and children.

Lastly, if we put an end to gender stereotyping, the world could live in peace. People could be accepted. People would not be bullied. And parents would not have to worry about students.

In conclusion, we see that stereotyping can happen to anyone. People can get very hurt by it. It is cruel, harsh, and mean. We need to put an end to it."

I was both saddened and proud to discover that essay in my son's folder. I am saddened about the student he mentions in his paper. Apparently, my son knows his own version of "Jack." As a middle school leader, I have become more and more aware of "Jack." I have a feeling that I know who he is referring to in the essay, and hope that young man knows how many people are indeed in his corner.

Yet, I am proud of the voice my son is giving to such a tough topic. He is aware that the stereotyping, much like bullying, impacts not only the victim or target. Like many others his age, my son shows compassion for others. He does not fear those who are different from him, but tries to gain a better understanding of their differences, at the same time he sees their similarities.

I'm proud of him for that.

While his conclusion lacks a strong remedy, it does provide an honest reminder to all of us. We tell ourselves that society has changed...more accepting. Then we turn on the news and hear about new anti-gay bills being introduced into state legislation...and hopefully vetoed by state leaders. It teaches us, or reminds us, that this topic negatively impacts our students enduring this kind of narrow mindedness. 

Where an adult may interpret an exchange or incident as a small event, the students could be seeing and feeling the situation in an entirely different way. Without engaging in dialogue, the student never gets the opportunity to gain a better understanding. As the adult in charge engages in monologue, they never get the opportunity to gain a better understanding from the student's perspective.

It's not only stick and stones that can hurt us - any of us.

Connect with Lisa on Twitter.

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