Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Why I Love Middle School

It's become a tradition for the December Home and School Club meeting to be slightly shorter than our usual length and instead spend the second half of the evening at a local dining establishment to spend time and recognize the hard work of our amazing parents. I enjoy these moments of relaxation and conversation with our students' parents and look forward to these evenings as a chance to "not talk shop" (and we truly didn't) but just get to know more about our dedicated parent council. We really have a very hard-working, inclusive, and supportive Home and School Club parent group for the 2013-14 school year, and perhaps it's no suprise that we see these same positive qualities in their children during the school day.

Amid a flurry of topics and conversations, one question that gave me pause was what I enjoyed most of being a middle school principal. I was asked this question after a lengthy discussion about Thanksgiving Break, our families, being married, and the option of being a stay-at-home parent. Truthfully, I often wonder what it would be like to be a stay-at-home parent, a role my wife has filled for the past two years while on leave from her middle school counseling position. I did have the opportunity to be a stay-at-home parent for a few days over the Thanksgiving Break, of which my wife later reminded me that I seemed rather eager to return to school this past Monday morning. Setting aside this small sample size, what would I miss most about being a middle school principal if I were to instead choose to change careers and become a stay-at-home parent? What is it about being a middle school principal that I prefer instead?

1. The Students

Without question, I'd miss our students. While it's true that we are always happy as educators to see our students promote to high school at the end of eighth grade, the middle school years are a crucial segment of a student's educational, social, and emotional growth. We educators get to see every success, every slip, and every rebound during these formative moments of middle school. Ever since arriving four years ago at our school, I've been amazed at how polite and kind our students are, even when no one's watching. Yes, they are still middle school students, a category of individuals who often make mistakes and poor choices. However, as a whole, we have such talented and kind students, with whom we are very lucky to spend our days.

One example: tonight, at our Home and School Club dinner, a parent shared a conversation they'd had with their student. Together, they had viewed the film "Bully" and spoke about the poor choices some students made throughout the film. When the parent asked their student, "How often does this stuff happen at your school?", their student replied, "It really doesn't. We would never act this way. It just doesn't happen at our school." The parent says she prodded a little more, not necessarily believing this Pollyanna-type response. Their student maintained, over and over again, that it could never happen at our school. The parent shared this story with what I felt with a sense of both pride in having raised an amazing young adult (which they did) and appreciation for the hard work our staff does on a daily basis to maintain these high standards of kindness and positive behaviors. Truthfully, we have amazing students and they're definitely one of the things I'd miss most.

2. Magical Teaching Moments

The best parts of any school day are often the impromptu or invited visits into our teachers' classrooms. Like most K-12 schools throughout the United States, we are at an interesting time of transition from individual state standards into the new frontier of Common Core. One of the benefits of the change is the new opportunity for our teachers to slow down certain lessons, have more creative, teachable moments for their students, and once again be excited about new teaching opportunities to augment their daily lessons. At any given period throughout the school day, I have at least 30 different worlds to step into and be amazed.

- I can visit our ELA6 classroom the day before the Thanksgiving Holiday and see 30 students scattered across the room, silently reading challenging texts. These students don't even notice their principal sneaking into their classroom, sitting on the floor against the cabinets, and opening up the next school book club novel for 20 minutes of quiet reading.

-I can spend moments in our Spanish classroom, perplexed at how the classroom teacher somehow convinced one of our more at-risk 8th graders to not only participate in the class song but also wear an over-sized sombrero in doing so. Every student in the classroom belted out Spanish phrases, mostly in tune, proud of their accomplishments. Students who have been dismissed from other schools are in this class, overwhelmed by the kindness of their peers and teacher, and yet still participating and growing.

-I can marvel at our new embedded honors ELA8 classes. Here, students themselves can self-select to participate in a more rigorous curriculum and higher expectations throughout each quarter. Where else could I see professionals willing to differentiate upwards, rearranging their entire weekly format to accommodate the Friday embedded groupings, and encouraging certain students who wouldn't normally consider themselves an "honors student" to give the more demanding course work a try... These are things that make me proud to be an educator.

And these are just some of the classroom moments I'd miss. Whether it's a Geography Bee, the chapter Jeopardy reviews, or the engagement of the Project Lead The Way class, every school day is an opportunity to be impressed and amazed at the hard work and dedication of our staff.

3. The Silliness.  

Middle School is just the silliest place I've ever spent my days. It's a collection of comedies and memorable moments. Today, during a somewhat long day filled with more than just a few meetings, two students arrived in the office at the end of their PE period. They seemed to be arguing with each other. I asked one of the students what they were so furiously saying to one another. He responded with words that can only come from the mouth of a middle school student: "Oh, we heard someone say 'tiny turtle' on our way to the office so we are saying 'tiny turtle' to each other in as many different ways as we could. Some loud, some soft, some in different voices. We're not mad at each other. We just think the words "tiny turtle" sounds silly." After I thought about it for a few moments, I happened to agree. Only in middle school.

And only in middle school would the principal be engaged in what the opposing party (an 8th grade boy) is calling a "battle of wits" but truly is a contest to see who can sneak up on the other and trick the other individual into looking the wrong way from a tap on the shoulder. (side note: I am pleased to say that I am winning this "battle of wits"). This same student approached me yesterday and asked if I knew that "Movember" was over. I suspect he asked because of the increasingly out-of-control beard I'm playing host to. I asked what month it was now. He replied without missing a beat: "It's DANCEmber" and then he moon-walked away doing what I believe were dance moves with his arms. Where does a student feel comfortable enough with themselves and their peer relationships to dance backwards in front of the entire student body at lunch? Only in middle school.

There are just so many things I'd miss about our school if I were to make a change to being a stay-at-home parent. I know that there would be just as many amazing moments with my daughters, but it feels like I have the best of both words with weekdays at school and many evenings and weekends with my family. I should also point out that my wife suspects I'd go stir crazy if I were home for any long periods of time. She's probably right. Perhaps I'm just very fortunate to love being a middle school principal. No other job like it.

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