Monday, September 14, 2015

Returns Accepted

     In the final analysis, last week was about as good as it gets.  On Tuesday, I was a teacher again.  Not that I wasn't one during summer school back in June and July, because, yes, I did teach Drama and Speech to fourteen kids for three hours a day four days a week for twenty days.  But, that was temporary-- a trial run-- and I wasn't even sure on the final day if it would be my last one teaching in a classroom.  For whatever reason, it was this week, teaching middle school for the first time in my career, that made it feel like I'd come full circle.  Not quite "home," but certainly where I'm meant to be at this point in my life-- the return that made this journey feel complete.
     This is true for three primary reasons.  The first is that every educator I talked to prior to the first day of school last Tuesday said that 7th graders are easy to teach.  They are less awestruck than 6th graders, but more mature.  They are also less apt to think they know more than adults and run the school than an 8th grader might be.  Largely due to these assurances, I can honestly say I was not one bit nervous as the students walked up to me and with a hopeful, "thank God I made it through first hour" look in their eyes, sought to confirm they were in the right place.  They are just so sweet-- the nougat center of middle school.

     Another reason my middle school debut went so well is because of the incredibly warm welcome I have received from my new colleagues.  So many people I met for the first time told me that a strong, positive reputation preceded me.  This is always nice to hear, and in this particular situation, reassured me that I would be able handle teaching tweens even though my "specialty" is 15 and 16 year olds.  By and large, what works in education works with kids, teenagers, and even adults, with some modification, of course.  The kind words of my colleagues boosted both my ego and my confidence in taking on the challenge of teaching an age group I'd never worked with before.

     The final reason that this week has been so wonderful is that teaching 7th graders is, in fact, awesome.  Whatever special sort of teenage angst and attitude that develops by the time they become sophomores in high school is all far beyond their horizons-- they see only this moment, this hour, this teacher, and this classroom activity where standing up in front of the class is an awkward but necessary chore so that we can build a classroom community.  During one such moment in the "getting to know you" activity, a student revealed he only went to half of Kindergarten, and was then moved into first grade.  I asked if he just stood up one day, looked at the class, and said, "Bye, Felicia."  The fact that my reference to this pop culture meme, which originated from a film made before these kids were born and which none of them (I hope) have seen, was greeted by peals of laughter in every corner of the room solidified for me what I already knew:  everything's going to be just fine.

     On the parental front, I had another "return" situation, this time with my son, as he and I were able to go to Michigan Stadium to watch the Wolverines play-- something we haven't done since he was four years old.  If I had a nickel for every smile, shout, and leaping hug (which he preferred over high fives) that happened during U of M's victorious home opener, I'd easily have had enough to pay for the face value of the superbly located season tickets which my wife's brother generously gave us.  

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