Well, a new school year starts tomorrow for me. It's officially time to get my classroom looking all shiny and new for the first day of school. Last week, I was fortunate to get to spend most of the week at the lake doing absolutely nothing but laying in the sun and reading books. It was much needed and much enjoyed. I would always rather read young adult fiction than adult fiction, and I'm currently obsessed with author John Green and am in the process of reading all of his books. I started Paper Towns while I was there, and I'm loving it so far. Anyway, I also read a nonfiction book related to teaching middle school to get me geared up for a new school year. I started doing this last summer and decided to make it a personal tradition of sorts, a way to learn something new that I can apply to my work. Last year, I read What Teachers Make by Taylor Mali. This year, I read The Drama Years by Haley Kilpatrick.
Now, I was a middle school girl a lot more recently than the majority of my co-workers, and I remember having some pretty petty and ridiculous drama. Despite feeling not all too removed from the upheaval of middle school, it was really good for me to read this book. Kilpatrick dives into the pressures and frustrations that face todays sixth, seventh, and eighth grade girls and discusses problems, like frienemies, mean girls, boys, and self esteem, by providing interviews with middle school and high school girls who are willing to share their thoughts and feelings. What I realized in reading the book is that a lot of these problems don't go away post-middle school. Girls who become twenty-something and thirty-something women still deal with frienemies, mean girls, boys/men, and self esteem. Middle school is merely our introduction to issues and pressures that are always going to be there in some form or fashion.
All of this got me thinking; am I really acting as a good role model for my girls at school? Am I modeling how to resolve conflicts and providing a listening, empathetic ear? Am I Tina Fey's character in Mean Girls?....just kidding. Anyway, my point here is that as I was reading I started to realize that somewhere along the way, my mindset shifted toward adulthood, and I started to see the "silly drama" my students are dealing with for all its pettiness and not as the monumental moment that a 13-year-old girls can feel that it is. While it's important for me to bring these kids back down to Earth, it's also important for me to practice greater understanding when their dramas turn into traumas. The middle school girl experience is different, even from when I was in middle school back in the day. Social networks and cyberbullying make girls even more vulnerable than they once were to the Regina Georges of their own generation. I feel like it's my responsibility to be available.
In the chaos of the day-to-day, being "available" can be tough. The thirty minutes of relative silence that is my lunch time is like an oasis some days, making it hard to say yes when a student says, "Ms. Herring, do you have time to talk?" But it's my job to have that time. Some girls can't or won't talk with their parents, and girls need wisdom beyond the capacity of a fellow 13-year-old sometimes. So my resolution for this year is to be available, to be empathetic, to be a listener, to be what my students need as they navigate the drama.