One of the weirdest parts of teaching sixth grade is constantly observing- and sometimes partially reliving- the awkwardness of the middle school years.
The gender-divided, cooties-concerned 11-year-olds who entered my classroom in September are no more. I still have kids who span the age range of 11-13 (and one new guy who might be 14 or 15, we’re not entirely sure), but their outlook on the opposite sex has drastically changed.
I think I’m going to blame the recent nosedive in behavior on this trend. My TFA training tells me that the constant high-pitched giggling, note-passing and ENDLESS chatter about who likes whom is somehow my fault as a teacher. (I’m obviously not setting up clear expectations for romantic interactions. Perhaps I should teach a mini-lesson on pre-teen dating? I can just picture the exit slip now). The realist in me says I should just focus on the positives: my main behavior problems are now chatter and inattention, instead of punching and desk-throwing. My pessimistic side says I should watch my back, because I teach students from an extremely conservative culture and their parents would most likely be livid if they knew about the flirting games that go on in the cafeteria, hallways and, as much as I try to stop it, furtively in the classroom.
I’ve already made the threat that I would read any confiscated notes out loud, though I’m not sure if I ever intended to actually follow through on that. I grabbed a note that was circulating across the room today, and a few kids looked so mortified that I gave in to the temptation to glance at it. The basic gist:
“If you’re going to break up with him, who do you want to go out with instead?”
“IDK who do you think I should”
(list of boys’ names)
I couldn’t help but crack up laughing in front of the class. I then composed myself and carefully placed the note in the basket on my desk, glaring at the class and trying to subconsciously imply that seriously bad things would happen to the note writers later. About 30 minutes later, as I opened the door to talk to a student in the hallway, the note mysteriously disappeared. Cue a lecture about taking things from my desk, another 30 minutes pass and I notice that the note has been returned to the basket, ripped into tiny little pieces.
My students’ other new obsession is the game MASH. Why, why WHY is this game so endlessly entertaining to middle schoolers?! I have taken away so many MASH papers this week. The student I was tutoring after school today, who does not speak, had MASH notes written on her fingers in marker. I called out a few boys for playing it during science the other day, mentioning that I didn’t realize boys cared so much about their future houses and number of children. I know them well enough that I knew they could take the joke, even as the other kids screamed “OOHH, Ms. S. burned you!” and S., mouth agape, asked, “Ms. S, how do YOU know about MASH?!”
One benefit of the recent romance craze? I have been blown away by several recent displays of social skills. In the hallway today:
I., yelling at a 7th grade girl in his typical teasing tone: ”Hey, what the heck is wrong with your voice?”
7th grade girl: ”Shut up! I’m just really sick.”
I., sheepishly and in a completely sincere tone: ”Oh. Well, I hope you feel better.”
Me, standing at my classroom door, observing this whole interaction: Speechless.