I haven’t written about my bucket list lately.
One series of goals that I set at 30 was to earn a teaching credential, a master’s degree and a doctorate. So, at 33, I went back to school to begin work on my teaching credential. I then reentered the workforce as a novice – again (this was my third career).
As a classroom teacher, one of my goals every day was to be the bright spot in each student’s day. I thought if I could help 30 kids enjoy school, maybe they would enjoy learning. The problem was that when I was busy earning my teaching credential, I thought I would be a fourth grade teacher. Instead I spent my entire teaching career at middle schools. So, my influence on 30 students extended to 180.
After several years of teaching, I began to think that maybe I could extend a positive influence to an entire school of students (or from 180 to 1,000). So, I earned my administrative credential and M.A. and was promptly asked to begin working as a principal at an elementary school. As I spent the summer preparing to take the helm of a school of about 500 students, I decided that I was going to learn each student’s name by October (I did) – it really wasn’t that hard. We had a great time together and I believe we made great strides – in fact I just ran into one of those students and his parents this past week who still remembered me (he was a kindergartner my last year at the elementary school and is now in eighth grade) and they made some positive comments about my knowing all the kids at the school.
I had a wonderful time with elementary students, but eventually moved back to working with middle school students and again learned every student’s name (about 1,500 this time).
Middle school is a nice euphemism for shark tank. Kids are going through so much as middle schoolers and we (adults) tend to marginalize the emotional, physical, social, intellectual, and moral changes they are experiencing (and ages 11-14 tend to be at their lowest point of self-esteem). As a result, many (most) kids tend to pick on others in order to feel better about themselves (I’m generalizing due to time constraints). I tried to make each day bearable for them and did whatever I could to make them feel that they had at least one advocate. However, if they needed to be disciplined, they were (we expelled about 20 kids each year).
My favorite story to hate about middle school happened one year on the first day of school. I watched a new sixth grader walk onto campus with his father. The kid was wearing a sweater vest, tie, dress slacks, and dress shoes (he looked pretty sharp) and was holding hands with his father as he entered campus. My first thought was “well, you don’t see that anymore, how nice.” My second thought was, “he’s dead” (socially). Sure enough, he only lasted two more days before checking out and going to a private school.
There were many great stories as well. Like the students who earned a place in space camp in Huntsville, Alabama, or the students who created a welcome program to help assimilate new students into the school, or the students who went on to earn scholarships to universities or military institutions, or just the great kids who would come back to volunteer on their days off after moving on to high school.
But the one student who couldn’t be himself – couldn’t just be a kid – still haunts me.
Anyway, I eventually moved on to become a principal of a high school (with some of my middle school kids) and now a university (educating teachers, counselors, and principals), always with the goal of making school more enjoyable for students, with the hope that they will enjoy learning. Only now, instead of a goal to be the bright spot in the lives of 100 or 1,000 students, my goal is to create many bright spots who will enter classrooms and school all across Southern California, becoming a positive influence on (literally) millions.
Welcome to middle school!