Friday, February 26, 2010

Things I Have Come To Appreciate, or The Redemption of Eighth Grade

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After I was hired in my first teaching position I was informed that I would be teaching two eighth grade classes—back to back.

I was terrified.

Ninety minutes with twenty some thirteen year olds every single day?

Lovely.

Rewind a decade or so and you’ll find the impetus of my terror: a terrible eighth grade year. I hated the eighth grade, and say that with all the seriousness the word hate can inspire. I was in my third school in three years (in three states), and had not a friend to lean on, unless you count the one that lived 3,000 miles away, who I would get to chat with on the phone every couple of weeks.

Being new is hard. Being new in junior high is horrible. At some point in high school most students learn to be a bit more welcoming, a bit more kind, a bit more supportive of the kid that is having a hard time finding her way. In junior high? Not so much. They tease and make fun and are relentless—because it makes them feel a tad bit more secure. Security is a hard thing to come by at 13, and is sometimes gathered at all costs.

Fast forward a few years, and I find myself in a similar position: freshman in college. Once again the new kid in a new state, my fears of being the friendless loner return—but are not fulfilled. Miraculously (I was convinced) I made friends. Quickly. My 4,000 mile distance from most friends and loved ones was soothed by late night conversations on bus rides and abundant running partners (thanks to a college cross country team).

Five years later when my closest friend from college moved away to graduate school, I would find myself hunting for another (local) kindred spirit…and would find her in the classroom next door. We have vented and laughed and mourned over struggles in family and friends and students, and have found much comfort in sharing the journey rather than navigating alone.

Last year a pair of graduating seniors asked my teaching pal and I if we were “BFF’s”. My friend and I chuckled, and thought for a moment, and I said she was probably my best local friend. The reality is, it’s not that my friendships with people from high school and college ceased when we moved, but our relationships shifted…just like this one eventually will.

I have come to trust that regardless of whether I move or stay, I will find those who can share and support me in my journey. And thanks to eighth grade, I will never take those friendships for granted.

Meanwhile, I have come to love teaching the eighth grade. I love the (surprising) optimism, the candid conversations, and the naïve confidence.

And I love that I don’t ever have to do it again.

2 comments:

  1. Love, love, love this post! Ten years ago, when I left all of my "best friends" when I left my first teaching job in PA, I was so sad and didn't think that experience would ever be replicated.

    Fast forward and here I am, a decade later, in pretty much the same experience: new state, new faces, same relationships.

    Thank god.

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  2. Wow, can I relate to this post! Only for me ith was 6th grade, the first year of middle school. I had been homeschooled in Utah for 3 years. When my family moved to a suburb of Atlanta, we also decided to start going back to public school. Let me just say, it was a disaster, the thought of which still makes me shudder. I had my siblings, but during the school day I was pretty much a social outcast. It's shocking to think of my backward, sheltered self then and realize that I've turned out to be mostly normal. Since then I have made many great friendshps that are never to be taken for granted. And for that reason I'll forever be grateful for 6th grade.

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