I loathe Mondays for several reasons. First, I never fully prepare on Friday afternoons. I blindly assume I will be well-rested after a nice weekend. Hah. Sunday night work concerns usually hit at 9, even when I go to bed by then. What if this? Will I remember this? Did I finish grading? And to make it worse, I took two Benadryl because my allergies are bad and I thought it would knock me out to boot. More panic. What if I sleep through my alarm? Do I have enough gas in the car? Black pants or khakis? Major life concerns, I know.
Well, I didn’t sleep through my alarm because I woke myself up every 45 minutes or so. I got to work with more than enough time to spare. And I forgot all I had to do was listen to 8th grade speeches. Okay, this Monday had the potential to be a good Monday. And it was.
I have a student who is moving back East ten days after 8th grade graduation. She is devastated to leave her friends. I adore her–she is even-keeled, thoughtful, generous, funny, and so very talented. She went up to read her speech this morning, and couldn’t. She completely fell apart. I watched my students surround her and tell her that she was brave for trying. The class outcast came up to her after class with tears in his eyes, telling her thank you for telling the truth, because moving sucks.
Oh teenage life. I forget how tender these moments are. Everything rose and set upon my mood when I woke up in the morning when I was 13. Whether I had the right breakfast to eat, or if my lunch had a certain bag of chips, or whether I was in trouble when I got home because I forgot to clean my room. I heard more than half my students today read and sum up their middle school experience. Most had a great message. A few, it took all I had not to allow my eyes to well up, because I know the struggles they’ve endured as pre-teens, the home issues, the learning issues, the friend issues. They allowed themselves to be vulnerable in front of their peers and share some of their darkest secrets. I could never have done that. Nope.
When I taught twelfth grade in Connecticut, I taught the Beat Poets, and I downloaded a bunch of Allen Ginsberg readings. I didn’t play “Howl” for them because I didn’t know how they’d take it. I haven’t read this poem for years. I’m even more tired than before after listening to his Madman rant. Genius. I think about the difference between my eleven years of students. Kids are kids. I don’t care how grown up they pretend to be, or what level of stoicism radiates from their eyes, they are just kids. I have had to put my arm around too many of them lately, asking them if they are okay. Asking them if they want to go grab some water so their tears will disappear.
Even in the saddest moments, there’s always one or two kids who plant themselves in the middle of solemn goodbyes, and make jokes about iambic pentameter and metaphor and how Tom Sawyer is overrated. It’s good to have a mixture of both types of writing. Every time my name was mentioned, either as a thank you or a nod to a bad literature choice I made, nearly all eyes shot my direction to witness my reaction. I had a smile on the whole time.
Who am I to tell my students that the “authentic” middle school experience is positive? They need to drag up the struggles, prove that they survived, show their battle wounds. They need to revel in each others misery, and sympathize with their peers about the 7th grade Spanish final or the sex ed unit. Believe it or not, there’s life after middle school I tell them. And I think they finally believe me.
Exit Music (For a Film)–Radiohead
Don’t Cry a Tear–Lyle Lovett
All I Want is You–Michael Franti & Spearhead
Adult Education–Hall & Oates