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Saluting Middle School Survivors
by Shani Jackson

Its a wonder that any middle school kid makes it out of their parents house alive!" I exclaim to my mother as I recap my day on a drive home. She laughs. A repentant daughter is a mothers answered prayers. But to every adult who has ever lived with and tolerated an eye-rolling, lip-smacking, bad-choice-making, insecure-yet-overconfident, and flip middle-school-aged child, my parents included, I say: God bless you!"

My middle schoolers were lovable last week. We were riding high on the results of our Stanford tests, the national test students across the country take. Students were, mostly deservingly, proud of themselves. Our seventh graders had made almost 4 percentage points of growth, performing better than the national average.

My students on average performed at the eighth grade level. Ramon, my student with self-defeating tendencies, went from a 5.7 grade level equivalency to 9.4 grade level equivalency. Diana, one of my few students brave enough to call my cell phone for homework help, went from a grade level equivalency of 3.6 to a grade level equivalency of 8.3. She thought she just couldnt do math!" at the beginning of the year. These students werent the exception. Many students worked hard and took risks, most of them growing by more than one grade level. But there were still others who did not. Justin, who our team suspected was on drugs for much of the year, and whose behavior eventually got him sent to alternative school, went from a tenth-grade level equivalency to a fifth-grade level equivalency in math. He started the year as one of my best students, and took the seventh-grade downward spiral.

And behavior like Justins is what makes me wonder how a middle school child ever lives to tell the story about the hell that was his or her middle-school years. After a week, the Stanford wave had waned, all high-stakes tests had ended, and the temperature was rising. Translation: Students lost their minds. Monday morning my room was drug searched by the hounds for the fourth or fifth time this year. Monday afternoon, our campus police officer called one of my students out of class. Epi barely speaks English, so I wondered how long the conversation could last. Our officer returned about five minutes later. Epi wont be coming back to class. Shes going to jail."

"I know that 90 percent of my students are the students who are making mistakes, but who are making the kind that wont negatively affect their life path. I know that 90 percent of my students mean well, but are just victims of an insane life stage called adolescence."
Epi had marijuana on her. Epi, apparently, bought marijuana from Pablo, another one of my students. Pablo also sold marijuana to yet another student of mine, Ofelia. A student who just yesterday sat in my class because his teacher was absent, today was in handcuffs. And as students whose bad choices got them sent to alternative school, juvenile hall, or jail left the building, a band of girls dressed in too-tight clothes sat outside the main office crying -- for all their friends" who were being sent away.

These same girls come back to class, full of drama, feeling sorry for themselves. Miss! How can we learn math? This is a horrible day! Believe us. Its not right." They try to look sad, expecting my pity. Typically, I am sympathetic. I am! My students cry because their friends ignored them at lunch? I let them go to the bathroom and cry it out. A students feelings get hurt by another students thoughtless comment? I let them go to the hall to work it out. Heck! Last Friday five minutes before the final school bell rang, a student screamed out in class, kicked a chair over, and then fell over into a pool of tears because of a recent death in her family. I got the class of students to sit quietly without laughing while Selina cried it out. So I can sympathize.

But feeling sorry for students because theyve chosen to be friends with drug dealers, class disrupters, and bad-choice-makers? Not happening. I told my kids two things: 1) if you choose to choose friends who break the law, grow accustomed to having them taken away from you. 2) Mistakes are okay to make; you can recover from mistakes. Your job at this young age is to not make mistakes or choices that will dramatically and negatively affect your life path.

I know that 90 percent of my students are the students who are making mistakes, but who are making the kind that wont negatively affect their life path. I know that 90 percent of my students mean well, but are just victims of an insane life stage called adolescence.

And for those students, students who go to school in the middle of the chaos of drug searches and daily fights and learn, I have the utmost respect. For those students who see past the few trouble makers, and still love their school, and their learning, and their future, I have tremendous hope. And for all the students who had countless failures, but believed in the possibility enough to give learning one more try, I have great admiration. These are the students, the 90 percent and the 10 percent, of Fonville Middle School. And I am proud to teach them.

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Article by Shani Jackson
Education World®
Copyright © 2007 Education World

Posted 05/16/2007