Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Power of Respect

It's been well over a month since the last time I had a chance to write, but it's not for lack of material. I promise.

On the last day of school, I took my "Elf Club" members to Wal-mart to spend over $20,000 that they raised throughout the fall semester to support the Christmas giving of the local Kiwanis Club.  Their giving spirit and their excitement to know that they were helping others was infectious.  I honestly think it was the highlight of my holiday season.

And then there was Christmas with my family.  Closely followed by "Snowpocalypse 2012," which made me appreciate electricity and the freedom to go where I want to go when I want to go there maybe more than I have ever appreciated electricity and the freedom to go where I want to go when I want to go there.  It was truly a weeklong exercise in extreme patience.

After the snow melted, I got to ring in 2013 with my best friends in the whole world and my fantastic boyfriend.

And then before I knew it, we were back in school.  The children all came back looking a little taller than I remembered and acting a little more confident (and slightly more full of themselves, per any almost-8th-grader).  I was thrilled to see my students again!  As nice as it is to still live my adult work life on a middle school schedule, complete with a Christmas break, I always start to get antsy by the time we start back up for second semester.

Anyway, as excited as I was to see the children, I was a little shocked, after the first couple of days back, that a few of my students had magically discovered the art of sass and bad attitudes in their two weeks away from me.  I found myself having to reassert my expectations and drop a few detentions on some kids.  I even had to write my first pink slip, which was maybe my least favorite teaching experience to date.  I found myself wondering last week why a kid would make things so hard on themselves?  I mean, I get it.  They're testing the boundaries, figuring it out, asserting their independence and trying to gain adult respect, blah, blah, blah, child psychology, etc., etc.  But knowing why they seemed to have forgotten all the rules made it no less frustrating.  Suffice it to say that Ms. Herring ended up winning the battle because, let's face it, the teacher always wins.  This week has been so much less stressful.

Our 3rd quarter unit is all about the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.  It is my favorite unit because middle school students are so hyper-sensitive to the idea of justice.  They want justice and equality for themselves, and as they learn about the injustices that people suffered only 50 years ago in this country, you can see their indignation growing.  Last week, they wrote and delivered anti-bullying speeches in the style of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.  It was so powerful.  One student, who talked about his own experience being bullied in front of his classmates, almost cried when they stood to applaud him after his speech.  Other students preached against bullying as if they were standing at a pulpit.

Probably the thing that I am the most excited about at work right now is our field trip. That's right.  We are taking 400 7th graders on a field trip!  This week, we are studying the Little Rock Central High Crisis and the Arkansas Democrat Gazette's role in reporting the situation at the time.  Next week, with that knowledge, every 7th grader at my middle school will go to Little Rock and have the opportunity to walk the same path up the front stairs of Central High that the Little Rock Nine took in 1957.  I am so excited for them to have that authentic learning experience.

Over the past few weeks, I have watched my students attitudes and perspectives change with each new day that we have talked about racism and segregation and bullying.  They are making connections between the past and the present, and they are learning the true importance of respect for all.  Seeing my students learn this valuable lesson at a time in their lives when they are so prone to be egocentric is such a rewarding experience.  It reminds me that I'm not just shaping readers or writers or good students.  I'm shaping children who will grow up to be adults; adults who will hopefully remember the power of respect and the power of equality.