Why I might go back to junior high…

by jenfanic

I came to observe Kimby’s class in the EPGS program. She is doing an activity on writing abstracts, which I’m sure is very appropriate for the students’ studies, and is a part of their textbook on academic writing. In the middle of her lesson I feel a growing pressure and discontent. Nothing to do with Kimby’s lesson, but my own much-appreciated respite from academia is closing in on me with full force. Like a brick on my chest the thought of writing an abstract crushes my enthusiasm for being in a classroom. At least I come out of this experience knowing something: I don’t want to teach EAP.

I knew that I liked high school because I thought the kids were funny, and I had some idea that I could save them from the uncertainty and terror of college preparation. Help them find a voice. Assure them that it’s alright, and they are making their own decisions, something I didn’t feel as an adolescent, but rather that I was on a moving sidewalk of perpetual misery.

The previous day I had been in a classroom with paper airplanes sailing over my head. All in all teaching 10-14 year olds I was locked out of my classroom by students three times, I failed to prevent two paper airplanes from taking off over the balcony, numerous stickers adhered to the bottom of my shoes followed me all the way to Seattle, a cacophony of languages vehemently protested the smell of a Chinese students’ shrimp lunch, one translinguistic romance formed and faded, and no serious fights broke out. I would take the giddy transgressions of thirteen year old girls and the grouchy neediness of their male counterparts any day over the thought of an abstract.

On the first day of class I was introduced to my students, a motley crew of half grown children and budding young adults. They probably varied as much as two feet in height, and while some seemed to linger in childhood fantasies others pressed against the glass of maturity, one minute claiming Spiderman is real, the next proclaiming the only good thing about swimming is the girls in bikinis.

One particular student really stood out to me. He wore his hat to the side, wrote SKATEBOARDING across the entire sports and activities worksheet I had prepared, and had earned the reputation of a punk among the other teachers. But I had a soft spot for him. Maybe it was during a speaking activity, when I offered to be his partner and he veered from the topic and told me about his school in France, and the books they read, and that his father lived in Corsica but his mom in Nantes, in the west of France. When he shouted out during class that he was bored I listened, when he said the other teacher was boring I was flattered. He complained about greasy American food and the childish amusement parks. He explained his favorite French foods with the detail of a true gourmet, a child after my own heart. In class he was often distant, but reachable. I felt like he wanted someone to listen.

On the last day of classes he was in a foul mood. He hadn’t participated in the projects they had done in the other teacher’s class, and they were presenting. He didn’t even stand up with his group; he sulked in the corner. At first I thought, why is he being such a jerk? But I soon came to think that maybe he was really pouting, like a little kid who has failed to play along and now resents his isolation.

I wonder how often junior high teachers write off difficult boys as bullies, delinquents, when really they are scared little boys, too proud to show fear or sadness. I asked him if he was alright, and he said yes and avoided looking at me. For a second I though he might have been fighting back tears.

As a thirteen year-old girl I never imagined I would have any pity or sympathy for thirteen year-old boys. As an adult, however, I recognize them both as children and the young men they will become, complete with the wounds of adolescence. Their struggles seem more important than more intellectual pursuits, and their interests more real. Surprisingly, I think I like having them around.