One of the worst parts about winter is that I miss cutting the grass and keeping up with Ira Glass. Time on my riding lawn mower is like a Zen meditation for me, and I frequently listen to an episode of This American Life on my iPod while I work. I never feel like my day job is done until my 8th graders become 9th graders. Mowing the lawn while enjoying a podcast provides a clearer finish line.
While I prefer my pod and yard time to be an escape, I couldn't help wanting to share Middle School with you. The radio show anyway. I'll admit that I didn't learn anything new, but the last act contains one of the most important life lessons of all. We never know all of the challenges other people are dealing with, and this includes middle schoolers. To me, this falls under the "love one another" umbrella. Do you remember when you learned this lesson in your own life? The moment when it comes home for us usually involves a hefty dose of humility.
Yes, middle school students love to put a lot of drama out there for anyone to see. Yes, sometimes we can guess which children are struggling socially, academically and physically. No, we will never be able to know everyone's burdens. It's not realistic in either our teaching lives or our other lives. For this reason alone, we should all remember compassion. It's always the right choice when dealing with children.
I'm not talking about excuses, just empathy. Middle schoolers have little control over many of the circumstances in their lives. Offering strategies for success while they are at school can help them make good choices that impact their peace of mind while they are with you.
This is also not a time for moral judgment. Not knowing other people's challenges also extends to what you may or may not know about their parents. Let me be clear. If you suspect that a child is in danger, you should report it. If you are merely falling victim to the blame game, it's another story. You may be sure that the child is being poorly parented. Don't waste any of your time thinking or talking about that. What can you do as a professional teacher, not a parent, to help usher that child toward success during the school day? That's where your time is better spent. That's where you have some control and expertise.
With respect to your subject area, what needs to happen between the school year's start and finish lines in an effort to send a more knowledgeable student on to the next grade? Your curriculum should be a cornerstone, but it's also going to take a lot of flexibility, creativity and heart from both sides of the desk.