Every day I’m surrounded by 300 middle school students. My office is nestled in the seventh grade hallway, wedged within the girls’ locker bay. It smells of vanilla and baby powder. Further down the hall sits the boys’ lockers, and this hallway does not smell like vanilla and baby powder. It has a strange odor that I’ve yet to name, even though I have two teenage boys myself.
When we think of middle schoolers, we often think of all the wisdom we would like to impart during these formative years. And there is a lot! However, I’m realizing that my days with teenagers probably teach me as much as I am teaching the kids.
Here are a few things that I am learning from the kids in my care:
Each day is a new day, so live in the present moment. Tests, papers, and projects come and go, especially since GPA isn’t stressed yet. My students may spend weeks toiling on a major paper, but as soon as it’s turned in, they are ready for the next thing. They’re not worried about the past, but they are wide-eyed and ready for whatever’s coming.
All too often, I continue fretting about something that I should have left behind. My middle school students inspire me to release and to look forward.
I am unique, and I have something valuable to offer. Overall, my students approach each day at school as if they have what it takes. When a speech is assigned, for example, they exhibit little doubt that they can deliver.
Sure, they may not love public speaking, but I’ve never had a student say, “I cannot do this!” I’ve seen the shyest girls, the most soft-spoken boys, and even children who stumble over their words stand in front of a class and deliver. In the moments when I doubt myself, I am encouraged by their courage and confidence.
Mistakes happen, but we should move on. In middle school, a mistake might be something as small as forgetting a homework assignment or something as big as fighting with a classmate. Both have consequences, but it seems that middle school students face them and then get on with their lives. The students who fought today will likely be hanging out tomorrow as if nothing ever happened! When I blow it, I can remain trapped in my regret long after I’ve paid the consequences. Rather, I should move forward freely.
Honestly, I never planned to be a middle school teacher. It arrived like an unexpected surprise, and it has turned out to be a precious gift. While these energetic teens can be a challenge to corral in the classroom, they have a lot to offer to the one who is willing to pay attention and receive. If you have teens in your life—whether they are in your home, your church, your neighborhood, or your school— practice paying attention. There is much to learn from their childlike ways, hopeful optimism, and surprising resilience!
Got teenagers? Check out 5 Tips to Manage the Teen Years.