Resurviving Middle School

My little girl started middle school two weeks ago. Go ahead—feel sorry for her, for Clark and me, and for anyone affected by the scourge that is middle school.

Except…she loves it. And she’s annoyed by all the books and movies and people telling her these are the worst years of her life. Yeah, she’s only 2 weeks in. A lot can happen in three years. But she’s determined that her middle school experience will be a good one, and she’s sick of being bombarded with the apparent futility of that.

I want to support her in this. I hope these three years are fantastic, and if there’s anyone who can take advantage of the amazing academic and extracurricular opportunities this school offers, anyone who can come out of this huge and vibrant school unscathed, it’s totally my daughter.

Except…middle school really was among the worst times in my life. The same is true for her dad. So we’re armed to comfort her and help her through the teasing and the betrayal of friends. We’re on the active lookout for signs she’s being bullied or is developing an eating disorder. I’ve taught middle school, in addition to living through it, and I read a lot of articles about “issues facing kids these days.” We know the many challenges she might face, as well as many she’ll probably never encounter. We fear on her behalf, while she strides in, bold and optimistic. I’m so proud of my girl, even if I can’t quite see the world the way she does.

She’s been walking home from school most days, but the friend she walks home with is on crutches, so today I went to pick up the girls. I was the only parent standing outside the main doorway as these waves of tweens surged out of the doors. I felt awkward and out of place, invisible and in danger of being run over. I felt like I was too fat and I was wearing the wrong clothes and maybe I should have brushed my hair or put in earrings or something. The noise was overwhelming and I wanted nothing more than to run away and curl up in fetal position under something big and solid. I felt like I was back in middle school.

Finally my daughter and her friend came out—laughing, happy, looking like they own the place. As I listened to their chatter, I pushed away the headache, shoved those lingering irrational emotions back into the battered shoebox I’ve apparently kept on some shadowed shelf in the closet of my memory.

I know I’m ready to comfort her and fight for her. I hope I’m also ready to let her experience middle school on her own terms, uncolored by my own preconceptions of what it should be like.



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4 Responses to Resurviving Middle School

  1. Carl Klutzke says:

    Sounds like she’s off to a good start. My daughter was doing okay in 7th grade until last spring, when there was a big social debacle that cost her nearly all of her friends. It seems like things cooled off over the summer, and her 8th grade is off to an encouraging start, both socially and academically. But I know _exactly_ how you feel. I’ve often thought that I wouldn’t be willing to live my life over if I had to go through middle school again.

    • ayvalentine says:

      It’s really hard to watch your kids go through what was a tough time for you – I want so much to protect her, but I have to remember that she may not be fighting with the same things I did. I can’t project my battles onto her.

      I’m glad your daughter’s 8th grade year is off to a good start! It’s good to remember that even when things do go wrong (and I’m sure sometime in the next few years we’ll end up dealing with something) that it doesn’t have to define the whole.

  2. Tracy says:

    When I was told that the school at which I now work wanted to hire me, I had a whole lot of emotions come out of a place that I hadn’t realized existed. I had spent the last nearly two years getting licensed to teach, and it turned out that I had some damage lingering from my own time in middle and high school. Having to come to grips with that wasn’t easy. I’ve got a good memory, so at times, every repressed feeling was as real to me as if I had just felt it. Shame, embarrassment, disappointment, feeling left out, all of it.

    I’ve come to grips with most of those things now, but I still have to remind myself that I can’t project my feelings on to the students I teach. I still have to look out for all of the things that you and your husband are looking for in your daughter, but I also have to remember that school can be awesome for a large number of students. I hope things keep sailing along for your daughter. It seems like she’s doing really well right now. =)

    • ayvalentine says:

      When I was teaching I had to be hyperconscious of leaving my own experiences behind. It was too easy to bring in biases (good and bad) based on kids from my own middle and high school years. Those kids in front of me, though, deserved a clean slate.

      But I also loved being able to have an impact on a bunch of kids and hopefully help them have good memories of their tween and teen years. My favorite grade to teach was 7th, even though that was one of the hardest years for me in school.

      I hope your teaching experiences are on the whole really wonderful (although your first year will likely have some really rough spots! That’s usually how it goes – learning as you go always has challenges). And I have no doubt that you’re a great teacher. Your enthusiasm alone will get you far.

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