When I tell people I work as a teacher, the conversation inevitably goes like this:
“Oh, that’s wonderful! What do you teach?”
“7th grade sp–“
“You teach middle school?! That is rough. I hated middle school. I cringe when I think back to my time in middle school. It takes a special kind of person to deal with kids that age. You are a saint!”
There are so many stereotypes I have heard of middle schoolers– that they are self-involved, disrespectful, and unkind to adults and classmates. I have to admit that I don’t like to object when people are telling me what a wonderful person I am, but in all honesty, I do not feel like a saint at all. My students have overturned all of the stereotypes I have heard and previously believed about middle schoolers. I am not a special kind of person to deal with them– they are a special kind of people themselves, who are often misunderstood and need to be treated in a unique way. Last week was my first last day of school as a teacher. As I have been reflecting on my first year teaching, I wrote my students a letter about what this year was really like.
Teenagers are most known for acting in ways that may seem selfish and self-centered. I came into this year fully prepared for one hundred and five students who only cared about themselves and how popular they were. I want you to know that you have proved me wrong.
Sarah, when you came and spoke to me to express worries about your friend who was going through a hard time, I know that you took a risk to do so. You put her safety before your desire to be on good terms with your friend. You acknowledged that she might be angry with you for speaking to a teacher about it, but you did it anyway. You knew that I could help connect her with the support she needed. You were worried that I might think you were being overly dramatic, but the reason why you acted so passionately is because you care so deeply. Many adults have lost that passion. You are a hero.
Ruby, when you volunteered to help your classmate who has difficulty following along, you have no clue how much you really supported him. What you do not know is that he has a moderate hearing impairment, and having someone to help him fill in his notes when he misses some details was invaluable to his growth this year. He is also very shy, and I’m not sure he would have had any friends in class if you hadn’t gone out of your way to include him in your group projects. You made sure he knew he is a valued member of our community, and for that, you are a true leader.
Joseph, when you helped your friend with her math homework before school, you have no idea how much you warmed my heart. She came into class showing a much greater understanding of the work than she had in class the day before. I asked her who had helped her with her homework, and she said it was you. You must have known that her work was perhaps at a simpler level than the math homework you had done the previous night. Instead of pointing that out to her and making fun of her, you helped her and boosted her confidence. You have a kind and nurturing heart, and you are the picture of empathy.
Finally, Caleb, I know that you are the “cool kid” in school. You moved here and joined our class halfway through the year. Immediately, you had plenty of friends who wanted to sit with you at lunch and play football with you after school. Despite the countless offers from perhaps more “popular” kids in our grade, you chose to help out other seventh graders who needed a friend. You came before school every single morning to support your classmate who needed extra help and worked with him as a study buddy. In your end-of-year project presentation, you helped your quiet and reserved classmate step up and coached him through what he needed to say; you put your arm around him and supported him through each moment. You are a true role model.
I’d like to say I’m responsible for creating this community of kind, empathetic, hard-working leaders, but I think you just needed to be given the opportunity to let your true hearts shine. You were already these amazing people, and I am so grateful that I was able to get to know each of you and learn from you this year. Thank you for creating an amazing seventh grade community. Have a wonderful summer, and let’s do it all over again next year in eighth grade!
All my love,
–Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT blog editor and full-time special education teacher.
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.