I hated junior high. I felt fat, friendless and unpopular. The boys were mean and the girls were even worse. The changing body, the bad fashion sense, the cliques of popular girls and middle school relationships....ugh. Seriously, I didn't have it that bad, comparatively speaking, but 7th and 8th grade were probably the two least-favorite years of my life so far.
It might seem strange then that I've chosen to re-immerse myself in a middle school. Eight hours a day I'm surrounded by kids who are in the middle of the battlefield that is adolescence. Hardly a day goes by when some aspect of puberty doesn't smack me in the face: getting braces, putting in contact lenses for the first time, pimples, first periods, body insecurity, fights with parents, hating your parents, breaking up with boys, breaking up with best friends... it's all in a day's work around here. Most adults look at me with pity when they find out what I do. "Better you than me," they always say.
The thing is, middle school is so much better the second (and third, and fourth, and fifth) time around. It's so much better when you know that the petty things that seem to matter so much now will mostly not matter in the long-run. In addition, it's such a cool age of kids to work with. They come in as green little 6th graders and leave as young adults. In middle school they're just beginning for the very first time to figure out who they are and who they want to be. I feel really blessed to have the same students for 3 years in a row. Watching them transition from tiny kids who play house and imagine that "Fat Granny" lives down the sewer grate, as they do when they're 11 years old into the mature 14 year-olds who graduate three years later is truly amazing and it's humbling to get to be a part of that.
Teaching the same students for three years has also strengthened my belief in redemption. I get second chances every year. The kid who hates me this year, who's determined to hold a grudge against me forever because I accidentally used his apology note from detention as a funeral shroud for the classroom pet, well, give him two years of growth and hard work on my part and he might turn into a nice, reasonable young man who can laugh at that memory. I've seen it happen. In the past week, ten of our former students have taken time out of their busy high school lives and stopped by to visit us. Those are some of my favorite moments, seeing them looking even more grown-up and so excited to tell us about what they're doing.