Thursday, December 02, 2004

From a TLN diary entry....
When I tell people I teach 7th grade, often I get the same response, “Oh my gosh! How can you do THAT? Don’t they drive you crazy? That’s such a tough age.”

I just smile and tell them I love my 7th graders. Why do I love them? Some days, I wonder that myself. But then I stop and look back at the fun times we have been through and I have to smile again, realizing I would not be anywhere else. The unpredictable nature of my students, their zeal for life and learning, their laughter and tears, all serve to make my job the best one on earth.

I think back to Bobby, the infamous “got his head stuck in his locker” boy. It was right after student lunch, and a crowd of students was gathering loudly by the lockers. Thinking FIGHT, I pushed into the middle of the crowd. As I neared the center of the mass of humanity, I realized there was laughter, not the typical taunts of a fight. As I finally got through all the bodies to the source of entertainment, here I found Bobby, with his rather large head wedged in the locker on that little shelf at the top.

The young man was trying fervently to remove his head, banging it repeatedly, trying to pull out, but finding himself in a Chinese finger trap situation, with his ears keeping him from being successful in his escape. The sharp edge of the metal locker was cutting into his neck, a bit deeper with every backwards thrust. And all the while, Bobby was yelling, “HELP ME! Get my head out of here! SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING!”

I tried to calm him, but the sound of my voice only served to make him bang harder, which only served to make me start to laugh with the crowd. (Granted, this is not the appropriate TEACHER response but the sight of this huge kid, head stuck in the locker, was like something out of a movie!) So here we are, Bobby head banging in his locker, me laughing trying to find a solution, and the crowd growing, and getting louder.

Finally a bit of sanity escaped its hiding place in my head long enough to tell me, “TAKE A BOOK OFF THE SHELF.” So I reached in under Bobby’s head, grabbing his thick literature book, and tried to pull it out, thinking this would give him enough room to make his escape. But the book did not want to leave the locker where it was safe from completing classwork and homework assignments. So I was forced to pull the book repeatedly, each time hitting Bobby in the chest with it and him yelling each time, “OWWW!!! STOP!! THAT HURTS!! HELP ME!!” Eventually I won the fight with the book, wedging it past Bobby’s chest, which immediately freed his head.

With Bobby safely removed from the locker, the crowd dispersed to class, and I had to ask the teacher question of the young man, “Bobby, why’d you put your head in the locker?”

“To sniff the moldy orange in the back.” A response only a middle schooler could give, and one only a true middle school teacher could understand the logic of.

I think about Jessie, the “MY DOOR” girl. I have Jessie for math right after lunch. As students come back upstairs from the cafeteria, I meet them at the door, standing leaned against my classroom door, chatting with them as they come in. I came a bit late from somewhere one day, and there stood Jessie, in my spot on MY DOOR. She emphatically informed me that it was HER DOOR and she was not moving.

I let her stand there, wondering to myself why this normally quiet studious child suddenly had attached herself to my door. Now, what I thought was a one day oddity, has turned into a phenomenon all its own. Not only does Jessie commander my door after lunch each day, whenever she sees me, whether in the school hallway, in the gym in the middle of her playing a basketball game, or at the grocery store, she yells, “MY DOOR!”

Why she needs MY DOOR every day after lunch, I will never understand, but to Jessie, it is some strange 7th grade ritual, important in her mind. It is a bit disconcerting to her basketball coach, the elderly ladies in the grocery store, and other students, but by my calculation, in the whole scheme of life, Jessie yelling “MY DOOR!” is just one of those things we much accept, like the sun shining in the day, and the moon in the sky at night.

I think about Jerry, the cool 7th grade boy who graced my class with wit and charm every day last year, a bright young man, caring, compassionate, just an absolute model student in most every way for me (unfortunately, the rest of the day, he frequented the office and the detention room). Things were no different the day I came to school with laryngitis. Jerry took over for me, without my even asking, telling students what they needed to know and do all class period, starting by reading the day’s assignment off the board getting students started working. He had me and my routine perfected, right down to “PICK UP YOUR CHAIRS” and “Mrs. George says to have a great weekend,” at the end of class.

This becoming my voice evolved then into a year long ritual for Jerry, where at the beginning of each class period, he’d show up at my door to yell down the hall, “LAST CALL FOR MATH CLASS!” to round up my crew. Without bells and with inaccurate clocks, it is difficult for students to know when class is starting, so Jerry devised this system to get them there on time. IT WORKED!! As soon as he yelled, my crew all scurried to class, leaving other teachers standing in amazement, as once again, my door was the first to close. Jerry then went to his class, having taken care of me. He was proud of his role and his responsibility.

This year, with bells, my students come to class like cattle listening to the dinner bell. I sure do miss that yell….

You see, teaching middle schoolers is all about unpredictability. You just never know what will make them sparkle, what will make them feel safe and secure, what will make their day. You just know that they will ALWAYS make your day.

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