Life in the Middle School, all year long
Would you be willing to spend the school year with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders? Well, we both are doing just that. Any names except ours are changed to protect both the innocent and guilty, and represent no specific children. In fact, no student names are here at all. I am in my 5th year and Judy is in her second.
An important happening stands out. It has nothing to do with my role, yet impacts the classroom nonetheless. Each year, more (to me at least), onerous regulations and requirements have been piled on our teachers. In addition, most recently, significant cuts in pay (20%) have been laid on our teachers while our school board suffers no such cuts. Also, it no longer is financially beneficial for teachers to get a Master’s degree, as the cost outweighs the raise in pay. It is a real disincentive for our teachers. In the name of better teaching, these continuous new implementations have the reverse effect. In my opinion, today’s teachers are not as able to properly teach as they were in earlier years. Eating lunch with teachers gives me regular insights into some of their current concerns.
So, what happens in our classrooms? Well, remember how twelve, thirteen, and fourteen year olds behave? It has spanned the gamut of possibilities since we have been here. Among other things, one student missed class to attend his parole hearing, not an isolated happening. Some manage to be suspended for having what is considered a weapon in school. Another was arrested for writing a false bomb threat on the wall in one of the restrooms, and there are those suspended for assaulting a teacher, aide, or other adult. Often lesser charges are laid on for assaulting or bullying other students when no significant injury occurs.
Balancing this, deeply felt well wishes when I was ill, irregular hugs just because, choosing to sit next to me when I actually sit down, asking that I help with an assignment, shared happenings, and conversation regularly from a great variety of students make me smile. One of the highest honors I receive is from students walking between classes with friends I don’t know, yet they acknowledge and greet me fondly. Another is the student eagerly telling me about his part in the last basketball game, and asking if I am coming tonight. We have attended a number of the 7th & 8th grade games.
Then there are those kids who have absolutely no one to regularly care for them, moving from house to house to house during the week. A very few have no house. Some of these kids will talk, however, if anyone will listen. Since I am not a teacher and operate under entirely different limitations, I get to act independently. The kids seem to know this. They share, as do other students, dangerous or threatening events or feelings. I have reported to the proper persons thoughts of suicide, physical abuse/danger at home, and once a possible psychiatric threat. In one instance, I spoke to the county child welfare officer.
What is my charge to accomplish with students? It has varied during the past 5 years. Sometimes I get to simply forge a relationship with a student who feels isolated. Often I work with students who benefit from someone beside them for a time. Patrolling to keep students on task, taking cell phone or IPad and putting it on the teacher’s desk, or changing a student’s seat when he/she will not stop talking to a neighbor, are daily events.
The special need kids in Art are indeed special. They really love the art projects they finish and take home. Any unusual behavior is dealt with by those trained to do so. These adults include some parents as well as aides/teachers, all with certification in this specialty. Adult to student ratio here approaches one to one. I often get to help cut, paste, color, braid, or otherwise help them with their work. Usually I work with the boys, but sometimes the girls too. They have been curious about my beard and if I shave at all.
Now for some other descriptions of student behavior: You already know how the eager and/or good students function in the classroom. This has not changed since you were in school, but probably describes fewer students than were in your classes. You, of course, must have been one of the ones who studied, or you would not be reading this.
One of the distressing things I see is the significant number of students who refuse on many days to do any work at all. They have told me with no embarrassment they are bored or tired or would rather sleep. Sometimes they flatly refuse direct directions from their teacher.
Since in Middle School, the State of Michigan makes it very difficult to hold back a student, they are almost always passed up to High School regardless of their grades. It will be only then they will suffer significant consequences for poor work. A sense of entitlement and special treatment is very evident among many. Too bad their futures will ignore that sense in the real world. One wonders how the work force will fare.
Students have been overheard talking about their near futures. “I’m going to have a baby, more than one, and get lots of welfare money.” Similar phrasing from more than just one girl. This seems to be how some think about their later teen years and future. How bleak can you get? This includes 6th graders as well as 7th and 8th graders.
Another observation is about expressing physical affection at school with each other. It definitely happens, of course. School policy is very strict that such affection is not demonstrated on school grounds. Having been married 54 years, we are probably the only two persons who can legally hold hands without breaking school rules as we walk out of school at the end of each day. More than a few students ( and some staff) have told us how cute we look, and enjoy this affection display. We just automatically hold hands when we walk together. We wonder how much affection many see in their home situations.
The number of 6-8th graders who need remedial reading tutoring was surprising to me. I spend two classes with Read 180 (and 3 students at System 44 levels). Their reading levels range from 1st grade to 5th grade. A sad comment I hear is “I don’t need this”. So many say they do not want to improve. They do seem able to get around on their IPads and other electronic gear, however.
Another sadness for me is that often I cannot understand what many students have printed on their page. Spelling and grammar seem to be lost arts. Somewhere students have been encouraged to spell words the way they sound to them. It very much reminds me of our folio Shakespeare scripts we use for stage plays. Sometimes we need them translated. In the 16th and 17th century, England’s population spelled that way, too. A word might be spelled four different ways in the same play.
This year, Judy is with the 6th graders all day, while I am with 7th-8th graders in Reading 180 2 hours, French One 1 hour, French Two 2 hours, and Art 1 hour. School lunches have not improved much since my school days. Turkey gravy, when available, however, is really good. School breakfasts which are available to all students, I have had only twice, and will avoid.
A WORD FROM FOSTER GRANDMOTHER, Grandma Judy
As a Foster Grandmother, I try to be warm and friendly and huggy (only if they wish) to my 6th graders. I try not to be sad when they tell me things. Having raised three kids makes me no expert, neither does my recent B. A. in Psychology, but I can spot sad kids who are from sad families. Some of them have little security in their lives. It isn’t the money, or lack thereof, but lack of parental interest. It takes a great investment of time and energy to raise a child. Parents need to put their children first, not on a list, and listen to them, as well as check up on homework, and tests. I haven’t met bad teachers yet, only those who are ready, willing and eager to help a parent “get on the Kid” to get homework in on time, and check tests to see what improvements need to be made.
Here’s a thought, a parent could ask the student to read aloud.I’m too old to take the children home with me, besides our “shoe” is very small, but I think of my kids often and hope that some of the parents will re-discover them and be serious and goofy together.The thing that makes me turn into my version of a dragon is bad spelling. My eyes flame, I frown, my hair stands on end and I make growling noises in my throat. Sometimes I make them write the word correctly five times so it will have a better chance to imbed itself in the mind, perhaps forever.In the meantime, I like ‘em all, tall and short, black, blue, yellow and/or spotted nails, short hair, long hair, smiles and frowns. That’s one reason I like being an FG. They make me feel good.
Both of us have tremendous appreciation and fondness for all our teachers. Working with them over the years we also have changed our opinions about present day teachers, classrooms, school systems, and education in general. When we started, we were a bit suspicious of current classrooms. Now, we admire these teachers, and also feel quite sorry for them as they deal with the obstacles placed in their way. We also have developed some friendships.
One final thought – last year I was able to go across the large field to our north and spend 5 hours at one of our high schools. While there for a HS student sponsored project, I was able to meet a number of my former students. In one case, sitting at lunch in the cafeteria, someone came up and stood next to me. I turned to see who it was and was staring at his belt buckle. Three years ago, it would have been his shoulder. One sure thing about Middle Schoolers is that they come of a tremendous variety of sizes, and over the next few years probably will be unrecognizable, at least initially. You can’t help but laugh.
Bruce & Judy, Foster Grandparent in St. Clair County, Michigan, and blogging as Fr. Orthohippo on the net. Most Students know me as Grandpere (missing the accent grave) or Grandpa Bruce. About 8 kids have asked to call me Grandpa —- filled in a special name they supply. Nice names, I think, too.
The Foster Grandparent program here is under The Council on Aging and supplies about 100 FGs, mostly women. Most help in elementary schools, head start, and similarly aged areas. These persons are tasked with aiding particular students, as well as general duties. Only in recent years have there been FGs in the Middle Schools. Not all principals or teachers are open to having us. It is their decision to accept us or not. We must meet Federal rules of senior age, income, criminal record checks, and similar details. We also are trained prior to entering our schools or organizations and have regular In Services for additional training.