What Lisa Learned

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This is what I have learned from my second major pass through middle school (the first being in the early 70s):

• Most middle school students don’t mean to be disor­ga­nized. It’s just that their lockers and back­packs tend to reflect their explo­sive and creative inner landscapes.

• Middle school students often have an inor­di­nate amount of zest from the moment they walk in the front doors until they plop down at home many hours later. Harness­ing that energy is a beautiful thing.

• Working with middle school students means watch­ing the grand­est progres­sion of human devel­op­ment from tenta­tive seventh grader to bombas­tic eighth grader. It is awe-inspiring.

• Of course, paint­ing any school popu­la­tion with such a wide brush is a mistake.

• Any middle schooler will tell you that before you’ve finished your sentence.

• Many middle school­ers have excep­tion­ally refined senses of justice and fair play.

• It gives one hope for our future, trust­ing that these young people will carry their demands for equity into their adult lives and our U.S. policies.

• Some students under­stand this on a mole­c­u­lar level: a lot of the actual instruc­tion in middle school is mostly about how to get along well with others (I under­stand from Richard Cervantes that this is true of kinder­garten, too).

• Watch­ing a middle school student look out for someone else’s feel­ings makes one’s eyes water.

• The wit of a middle schooler is often sharper than anything you see on TV.

• On the other hand, the capac­ity for goof­ball shenani­gans often peaks in middle school.

• Which is why many middle school teach­ers are some­times seen laugh­ing and crying simul­ta­ne­ously, espe­cially in late May.

• Middle school teach­ers are awesome individuals.

• Middle school teach­ers are brave because they can watch unre­hearsed student presen­ta­tions with parents present. (There is no dramatic tension quite like that of wonder­ing if a middle school student will carry a joke a bit too far in front of all the parents. The teach­ers are used to it.)

• Middle school teach­ers have a unique ability to put them­selves in the center of this tran­si­tional adoles­cent tornado every day and remain intact.

• In fact, some of the most admirable, decent, enthu­si­as­tic, forgiv­ing humans I’ve ever known are middle school teachers.

I am grate­ful for the oppor­tu­nity to recal­i­brate my own middle school expe­ri­ence some forty years after the first go-round. Every­one should get such a chance.

–Lisa Groen­ing
Dean of Students, High School