Thursday, September 1, 2011

Past the Scowl

Something happened at school today that reminded me why I love teaching middle school so much.  Before I tell you what happened, a little background is necessary.  I teach sixth and seventh graders.  While you may think that one grade doesn't make much difference, just believe me when I say that it definitely does.  Sixth graders are still nervous, a little confused, paranoid of getting detention hall, and, most of all, they are still little kids.  Seventh graders have started hitting puberty and moving on to adolescence.  While sixth graders may be adolescents in the physical sense, their minds are still in elementary school at this point.  They are still little. 

Anyway, the very first day of school, my first class of sixth graders came in right after lunch.  This group includes a girl who, I must say, does not come off as still being a kid.  She came in late and frazzled, sank down into the seat closest to the door, and scowled at me the entire class period.  With the exception of a few occasions where she has talked to other students (while I'm talking), this girl has scowled at me since Day One.  I initially thought, well, here's to adolescent angst.  Bring it on, sister.  I started working hard to get beyond that scowl.  I even got her to crack a smile for a millisecond, when I complimented her earrings one day.  Today, she showed me just how to get through to her.

This week, we worked on grammar.  Specifically, we talked about types and kinds of sentences.  The kinds of sentences are declarative, interrogative, etc. etc...We all learn them in elementary and grade school and then store that information with all the other school stuff you don't use when you're a grownup.  Anyway, I put the kids in groups and had them write skits where each character was a kind of sentence and could only speak in that kind of sentence.  It's harder than it sounds.  You try only talking in questions.  The kids have done a great job and had a lot of fun with it.  But what made this whole week worth it was a short, five second conversation I had with scowling girl.  

I was walking around, monitoring group progress, and she stopped me.
Girl: "Ms. Herring?"
Me: "Yeah, what's up?  How can I help?"
Girl: "Oh, we're doing fine.  I just wanted you to know--this is so fun!"

She had the biggest smile on her face.  All I could think was "I got past the scowl!"  I was so excited to see her excited.  I now know that she had a rough first couple of weeks at school.  She was tardy to classes because she was learning her schedule; she got sent to the office a few times.  But beneath that tough exterior, she's a kid, too.  She wants to have fun, and she wants somebody to care about what she wants.  I obviously can't make every day fun, but I can keep in mind the ways she wants to learn.  I can also try everyday to make her, and all my students, feel that their thoughts and opinions are valued.  So I guess I can say "one down, a bunch more to go."  I am learning more and more each day that it is a never-ending task to truly know your students, but I am determined to get it down.  Happy long weekend!  I've never been so excited about a Monday off!

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