Middle school (or junior high, as we called it in my hometown) brings up more emotional turmoil for me than anyone has time to deal with, and many memories I’d like to forget.
There I met my very BFFs forever, which was maybe the only good thing about the overall experience.
There also, my dad taught science. Now, if you’ve ever been a student at a school where your parent was a teacher, you will understand when I say I could have lived without the experience. My dad was an amazing teacher, thoughtful, compassionate, just all around great. He went above and beyond what was expected of him, and really cared about those kids.
Junior high school students? They’re trying to “find themselves” and sometimes profess their willpower more than the most raging, out-of-control 2-year-old ever could. Hormones that wreak havoc on their emotions and thoughts result in actions that are less than admirable. After all these years, I have to admit, it’s still difficult to forgive them for being them (and I was one of them!). I’m still unsure: Was it the girls or the boys that were worse?
So, the reality of my dad being my teacher (yes, he was actually my sixth-grade science teacher) was not bad because of him, or me — or our relationship with each other. It was bad because of the other kids and their nature to torment a child of a teacher, and the teacher himself. (Who’s for giving every middle school teacher a Medal of Honor right now? Anybody?)
In junior high I learned to use a combination lock, which caused me extreme anxiety and bad dreams until this day. Yes, that’s correct, as a 41-year-old, professional working woman with two children of her own, I still have nightmares about my time in junior high school.
Almost always, they involve the dreaded combination lock, which, by the way, 30 years later and a gazillion iPhone versions later, we are still using in our schools. (I’m not blaming the schools; our government hasn’t seemed to want to invest much in them in the way of technology the last 30 years). Once we all get Chromebooks, and make sure every child has internet access, might I suggest we find a way to get rid of those antiquated locks?
I do believe, despite the inadequacies in tech, schools have made great strides, especially when it comes to teaching social and emotional skills. There are anti-bullying campaigns and clubs in most schools (and I’m praying they’re also in place in my hometown by now). I don’t believe these campaigns can cure the excruciating struggle through the teen years to adulthood, but they do make a difference in how youth treat one another. I’ve already seen it play out in elementary school. The Vigo County School Corp. programs are extensive and far-reaching, teaching kindness, respect and awareness, among other skills.
Despite what you think, this column isn’t all about my experiences as an emerging adolescent and the obnoxious students of which I found myself surrounded (I’m sure there was some reason for their straight-up meanness, which I’ll never know, although I have to wonder exactly what they were being taught at home).
It’s about my first-born, who is about to embark on this journey himself. He’s excited. Me? I’m a nervous wreck (see above).
But, I tell myself, he’s not really much like me at all when it comes to the traits he will need to protect himself through middle school. He is definitely the shyest kid you’ll ever meet. Yet, he embodies a quiet confidence I have yet to acquire. He doesn’t much care what other people think (adults or kids). Good for him. Again, still trying to get there myself. And, he’s not afraid to go where he needs to go, alone or otherwise, until he is comfortable. Impressive, really.
The academics might need work. He still thinks he’s going to be a YouTuber, and by the time I was 12, I knew I was going to be a writer. So, I have approximately six months to convince him of a different profession.
I also hope the pressure of getting to class on time isn’t so much that it knocks him off balance as it did me (the consequences were a bit extreme for an 11-year-old girl who couldn’t get her locker open and was late to class. Really, they were unnecessary, she screams!). Maybe he will brush aside such inconsequential matters, unlike me, who has always hated to do something “wrong,” or to fail, of which I was taught I was doing in these instances.
I have hope he will.
I remember when he was 3. We were stacking blocks into a castle on the living room floor. He was about to place a block, way up high, on a fragile stack that could come crashing down at any moment.
“Ohhhh,” I said nervously. “What if they fall?”
“Then we will build another one,” he said.
As he enters those halls, fumbles with his locker and makes his way to his classes, I hope that when he asks himself, “what if I fall,” he has the quiet confidence to know it’s OK, and he has the power to build himself back up.
Alicia Morgan is the News/Digital Editor for the Tribune-Star. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarAlicia.