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Confessions of a Former 13-Year-Old

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As a middle school teacher, I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to recall life at 13.

Since I was suddenly launched into the role of teacher two years ago, I struggle to remember how my favorite educators set up their classroom routines, how they taught fractions and what color pens they used to mark errors. I desperately try to dredge up these memories, because those were the most thorough classroom observations I had ever conducted. Surely if I could repeat their teaching strategies, I could recreate their successes as well, right?

Right.

It's only been 10 years since I roamed the halls of Cabin John Middle School as a student, but I can barely remember what we learned in 6th grade Reading, let alone how it was taught. Did we learn to read through whole word or phonics? How did the teacher explain similes? How did I learn to write a complex sentence? I wrack my mind for the vaguest of memories that might guide me in teaching my own students.

But instead of remembering how the Social Studies teacher taught us through project-oriented units, I remember inane details that won't help me as a instructor. Such as how Elena and I made a deal in Spanish class to switch seats each day so we could take turns sitting beside the oh-so-cute Kevin. And how I skipped gym class to go to the library. And that Mrs. Dennis wore a wig.

I also remember the loneliness of wandering the hallways in the morning without a "clique" to hang out with. I remember the humiliation of changing for gym class during that time of the month. And the fury and shame that coursed through me when I heard my first racial slur. I recall how it felt to feel fat at 13. And how feeling unpretty was far worse than earning a bad grade.

So, no, I don't remember much of what was taught in the middle school classroom. My students' education may very well be worse off because I have no idea how Mr. Sindall ran those incredible Social Studies simulations in 5th grade.

But that's a pretty good indication of how I need to prioritize for my students. They have been learning and they have been improving academically, but the real take-home ideas for them are probably not going to be that awesome lesson I did on similes. Rather, it's probably going to be how the teacher praised them. And what the other kid said to them. And how it felt to be 13.

5 Comments

Amen to that! We are minor characters in their lives, but some of our moments with them--like recognition of personhood, understanding, compassion--will be major events forever. Hang in there. Your reflections show me you have the soul of the very best kind of teacher.

Jessica,
Learning is not always just about similies, division, & social studies. It is more often about who we are and what we will become. Thank you for helping your students along the path of "becoming". It is the greatest thing a teacher can do. You are, in every sense of the word, a "teacher".

Jessica,
I think you are on the right track. I think kids will remember what you teach them, as you remember the lessons on similes, when they feel your respect for them as individuals and your empathy for what it was like to be 13. When kids feel the care, respect, and appreciation of their individuality from their teachers, they are better able to "let in" the carefully prepared lessons we present.

Jessica,
check out this NY Times article. be sure to watch the videos --- it will validate much of what you have said in this post.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/17/education/17middle.html?ex=1331870400&en=9ae6c4e7a329665e&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

As a mom of six (all but one past 13) I say Amen to that. My kids did best with personable, caring teachers they liked and felt comfortable with. At 13, when they hate a teacher or are mad at a teacher, they "get even" by not doing their work or not trying (despite lectures of how this only hurts them). If they constantly feel like failures, they give up. Teaching to the test is a farce and inhibits real learning. Praise is so important. Please always care about your kids! And, except for the minor few, their interactions with other children, and their social/unsocial life will always be forefront in their minds, and schoolwork little more than something they have to do. I hope you don't get old and bitter like so many teachers do. Please help those kids who feel left out. They really need to know someone cares and they'll remember you.

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Recent Comments

  • Jacqui: As a mom of six (all but one past 13) read more
  • Rebecca: Jessica, check out this NY Times article. be sure to read more
  • Susan: Jessica, I think you are on the right track. I read more
  • Diane: Jessica, Learning is not always just about similies, division, & read more
  • Jan: Amen to that! We are minor characters in their lives, read more

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