It has been a privilege this year to teach, among the 64 middle schoolers, a handful of eighth graders who were in Molly’s 3/4 class so many years ago when I subbed for her. She was on maternity leave for Aiben (who is now so tall and full of questions!), and I was taking on a change of work from teaching and dean-of-studenting to filling in. I had taught high school and middle school English here, and I thought, how hard could third and fourth grade be? And it was only for three months!
It will come as no surprise to elementary teachers that third and fourth graders are entirely different creatures from the pre-teens and teens of middle and high school. And this particular group of Molly’s was, how should I put it? Full of life. Full of energy and excitement and emotion. If I thought it was going to be any kind of laid back, semi-“down time,” well, I had another think coming.
Those little kids put me through my paces as I worked with them on social studies and English. They proudly brought me their cursive handbooks for signing off, and they read out loud to me from all kinds of books. I got to read out loud to them, too, which was always the highlight of my day in that classroom. Along with their exceptional liveliness, this group of children also had surprising emotional awareness. There were a few disputes here and there, but certain boys and girls always spoke up to either defend their less asssertive classmates or to remind others to tone down harsh remarks. They were, above all else, very loving and affectionate with one another and with their teachers.
When I was so lucky to be able to return to the middle school to teach, about three years ago, I knew many in this group that I had subbed for would be coming down the pipeline. I remembered their vivacity, and I wondered if they would keep me on my toes as 12- to 14-year-olds as they had way back when. I hoped I was up for it.
Here we are now, at the end of the eighth grade year for those fourth graders of (not that) long ago. This school year began with a surprising bit of reserve from many of my old comrades, and I thought, wow, they’ve really changed. They’ve grown up, they’ve evolved, and they’re much quieter than they were in elementary school. I will admit I was a tiny bit disappointed that I wasn’t greeted with crazy hugs and broad smiles back at the start of this school year. I chalked it up to maturity (ugh).
But then something happened, something that has happened every year I’ve taught middle school. All of the students, the lifers and the new kids, relaxed and loosened up, and we all got to know each other as the school year progressed. And this winter and spring has been rich with hugs and happy faces and jokes and a bit of hollering because that’s who these kids are. We even danced together at the middle school dance last week (it was a gas!)
The ones I subbed for way back when have changed, of course, but they are also the same exuberant humans who turned paper plates into indigenous masks with globs of tempera. Their humor is a little bit more sophisticated, and their writing can be wry and sassy and so vulnerable that it makes you want to weep.
It is going to be especially poignant for me to watch the eighth graders move on at their celebration ceremony June 8. I have had a kind of a double dose of a few of these individuals, and they have been lovely and remarkable and so full of life. Be assured that the students who were new to me or to Waverly this year have also had a profound affect on me. This is why I love to teach here so much, and why Waverly is so wonderful.
By Lisa Groening