Back To Middle School

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    As a 10 year old,  I discovered that I wasn’t a fan of crowds. This self-awareness came from an array of experiences.  The crowded birthday party at Chuck E Cheese was just as uncomfortable as the light-up disco floor in the back of Guptles Skating arena where I had my first date. The messy, slushy, loud underbelly of a ski lodge on a bitter cold Friday night in January. And the dreaded sleepover party  where inevitably “Truth or Dare” could ruin me! Dragging my sleeping bag into a bathroom or bedroom away from the crowd at midnight  was my saving grace. It was my solution and to this day I’m proud of that. 

    I think it’s ironic that I can now stand in front of a crowd of 100 well educated professionals and speak and teach what I believe and know is good for our schools, our teachers,  and our overall learning environment.  I’m still nervous, but I can manage it. I mostly feel confidant and secure. So why is it that I was close to breaking out in a cold sweat when recently presenting to a group of 50 eighth graders? Where were the nerves stemming from? Why do I care so much? Maybe I should just back out. It wouldn’t make a difference.  I wasn’t gaining much other than trusting that I could sew a few seeds towards the youth of our future. But yet, the inner critic kept getting louder. Where was this coming from and why couldn’t I shake it?! I kept telling myself I’m stronger than this. Get it together Sarah!

    The presentation was delivered. I talked too fast and didn’t scan the room well enough. I only remember 10 distinct faces when I should remember at least 30.  Connect with the eyes of another and they will know that you saw them. And feeling seen and heard is all any of us want. I answered questions hoping I didn’t come across as just another boring adult and I glanced at the clock too many times to make sure I was on task. I was thrown off by this crew of 14 year old critics working through the most insecure phase of their life.     

    And it hits me the next day. My nervous anticipation and over preparation for this 30 minute 8th period Friday class stems from a quiet awareness that kids know, they sense, they feel beyond what we life-worn adults care to tap into or recognize. I can stand in front of this group without saying a word and very likely 80% of them will have put me into a file folder in their brains. They will decide whether or not to listen to me, doodle, or float their minds to after school and weekend plans. Adults on the other hand are too tired to make these kinds of judgments because they simply don’t care as much. Adults know the routine, they know the script, they’re tired of predicting. This was the inner conflict I was facing. In my current mission of teaching mindfulness to our youth, I realize that they are naturally some of the most mindful people already. Basically, I’m teaching a self-centered, know-it-all 14 year old how to be more self-centered and concerned with their own personal well-being. And in the case of standing in front of them with sweaty palms, I understand that they have a power I do not. They are closer to their natural state. Less stained with the world’s view of how things “should” be. Their life experience is much more finite than my own and therefor they have more room to absorb, judge and decide if they can let me—some stranger—into the schema of their constantly developing mind. 

    It’s time we start respecting the student for their view, their power, and their authentic self-realizations.  As adults and furthermore teachers, we hold too tightly to our “roles”. We can be a parent, set boundaries and teach life lessons, but we are also called to see the individual separate from ourselves. Too often I hear parents proudly proclaim of the unique similarities they share with their child. This is not a wrong thing, it’s just a comfortable thing.  It’s also the parent’s way of affirming to self that they are moving forward and leaving the “right” kind of legacy behind. Instead lets look to the student and our own children as completely separate from curriculum standards and gene pool. Honor them, admire them, and most importantly TRUST them! They are thriving, whole individuals who make terrible choices at times and often are too proud to learn from them. But they’ll get there, we all do. In this space, in this moment of their life, let’s practice admiring them from the sidelines. Blowing the whistle and stepping in when they fall out of bounds, but mostly admiring their floating strides and skinned knees down the field of life. They know you’re watching and that’s all that really matters. 

    

Sarah Stevenson