Teaching Middle School, Week 17: “Because we’re bad”

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My students working diligently on their project.

Two comments to me at school this past week have stuck with me.

Both were from 6th grade students.

The first occurred while three of my students were working on their project for the end of the year. They were talking, and one said he had signed up for careers (the class I teach) next year, and another said he had, too.

I realized they thought I’d be teaching that class, so I told them, “I won’t be back next year.”

Their response was the expected, “Why?”

I told them that teaching took too much of my energy, that I didn’t have any energy left over to do the other things that I want to do.

And then the student who made the first comment said, “Because we’re bad.”

I told him no, that they’re not “bad.” It’s about me and my lack of energy, not them.

But I don’t think he really heard me.

And on another day, I asked one of my 6th graders if she had made the team she had tried out for. I was hoping she had. She’s the kid who is probably the most initially disrespectful of all my students, the one who is immediately “bored” and who loudly voices that feeling, the one who is reactionary and disruptive much too often.

But she is also the one who has tremendous leadership potential. The one who can influence an entire classroom to do something. The one who sometimes decides she “has my back” and tells the whole class to be quiet – and they do quiet down.

She’s also bright, has a good grade in my class, actually does enjoy learning – when she can get past her knee-jerk negative reaction.

She has softened during the semester and has let me see a little of the kid that really does want to please, to be liked, to be accepted, to be praised.

So I was hoping she’d make that team. Because being a part of something bigger than herself would be so good for her. And she might have the opportunity to grow into that leadership role.

When I asked if she had made the team, she said “no.”

She added, “Because I’m a bad kid.”

It hurts my heart that these kids see themselves as bad.

That they can’t separate bad behavior from bad character.

They’re not bad. They’re just kids.

Kids who have lots of challenges.

Some of my students may make boneheaded choices at times. Some may be disrespectful now and then. They may be loud and unruly and bouncing off the walls some days. They may not listen well. They may be mischievous. They may get angry sometimes.

But they’re just kids.

They’re not bad.

They can be sweet and funny and kind and innocent. Even the hardest of them.

I find them to be trustworthy. I have no qualms about leaving my purse in an unlocked drawer. Or my cell phone unattended on my desk.

Three weeks ago I put a dollar bill on the top of the whiteboard in my room to remind my students that the team that wins the project competition will get real money.

The dollar bill is still there. No one has taken it.

The “baddest” they have been is to be loud and unruly – and every now and then one will have a disrespectful tone of voice with me. But after I talk with her or him, each one looks me in the eye (at my request) and gives me a calm, reasonable answer (after some coaching) that is much more effective than the “attitude” answer.

These kids aren’t bad.

So why do they think that about themselves?

Where and how have they learned this?

And how do we teach them otherwise?

How do we teach them that “bad” behavior at times doesn’t make you yourself “bad”?

That we all (adults included) make mistakes.

And that mistakes don’t make you “bad.”

It’s weird. This past week was my next-to-last as a middle school teacher. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have 5 days left in the classroom. Friday will be my last day with kids.

But today, rather than being relieved that it’s almost over, that I’ve endured and survived, I find myself thinking of kids who think they’re bad.

Yes, these kids have gotten to my heart.

Not that I’m second-guessing my decision not to teach next year, mind you!

But I do want to be involved – somehow – in these kids’ lives.

I just need guidance into how that might be. What it might look like.

So I’ll be trying to be open to opportunities.

And I’ll be discerning what feels like my next calling.

I hope it will be a way still to be involved with these students – just not as their daily classroom teacher.

Time will tell, right?

Time will give me some indication.

And the Flow will show me the way.

I’ll be watching.

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Rocky Mountain National Park a few years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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