Saturday, May 29, 2010

Looking Back & Moving Forward

I don't know if I mentioned this before, but I come from a family of teachers. My father is finishing his 38th (and final) year in education, my mother was pre-school teacher, my brother has taught 6th grade for 10 years, my sister works for Penn State University, and my wife is a 5th grade teacher (my uncle is a retired teacher, too). I mention this because, in various ways, all of them have asked how I would describe my first year as a Middle School Dean and middle school students in general, as well as what my thoughts are looking forward to next year.

Here are some of my general thoughts on this past year and middle school students in general (but, please keep in mind, that these generalizations do not apply to all of our students and they also represent my opinions...which are subjective).

-One of the things that I find myself saying over and over is the difference between 8th graders and 6th graders. I doubt there is another period of time (besides the first years of life) where people change in so many different ways in such a short amount of time.

-Middle school students are smart, VERY smart. They are willing and able to engage in meaningful, high level discussions about a range of topics.

-All teachers are special, but middle school teachers are extra special. Our MS faculty here at PDS is able to channel all of the energy that MS students possess and bring out the best in each of them.

-Middle school students are incredibly observant. I think that their heightened self-consciousness makes them very aware of how other people look, and how other people act.

-Middle school students value time to socialize & play. It might not be called "recess," but the free time our students have during lunch is invaluable to their well-being in school (and to the well-being of their teachers).

-If John Gray were writing a middle school edition Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus he would need to change the title. Mars and Venus are too much alike to apply to middle school boys and girls...who appear to operate on very different wavelengths (especially in 6th grade)

-Middle school students are driven by relationships with peers and a need to "fit in." Whether or not your friends like what you are wearing today is way more important than learning about the American Revolution or the Periodic Table of the Elements.

-Middle schoolers have a unique sense of fashion. Some students where shorts every day of the year (even when its 25 degrees out), and others wear a hooded sweatshirt every day (even when its 90 degrees out). The hoodie might be the most popular clothing item amongst our students.

-If I-pods were allowed the entire school day (not just before or after school and during study hall), I'm convinced that some students might use them the entire day...for music, games, etc. I wonder how many people in the "I-Pod" generation will have hearing problems in 30 years?

-Even in our technologically-driven world, middle school students still do lots of "old school" things like write things all over their hands and arms, and play dodge ball and wall ball.

-Talking about "old school," A student asked me what my favorite song was in middle school. When I said it was U Can't Touch This by MC Hammer, the student told ME that I was "old school."

-The staples of the Middle School diet are as follows (in no particular order): pizza, french fries, anything from the grill [cheese steaks, quesadillas, gummy bears, and ice cream].

-Birthdays are still a big deal in middle school. From cupcakes & cookie cakes for friends, to singing "Happy Birthday" in the dining hall, to decorating lockers, middle school students honor each other in special ways. For students born in the summer, they celebrate the 1/2 birthday...something that was new to me.

-There are some middle school students who grew more this past school year than I've grown in my entire life. When you compare a student's 6th grade picture with his/her 8th grade picture, it often looks like two different people.

-I'm convinced that middle school students know more about everything and anything than I knew at the same age. In today's information-rich society, I believe that our young people are exposed to more at an earlier age.

-Middle school students say and do things that often lead to the following question: Why? All of us who know and love middle schoolers also know that there are times when they are impulsive and immature.

-The most important thing that I learned/realized/thought about this year is that middle school students possess that special ability to put a smile on your face, regardless of how your day has been or what's been on your mind. They are easy to love.

I'm looking forward to spending time this summer thinking about next year. Charlotte is the unofficial home of NASCAR, and the pace of life at PDS is often reminiscent of a stock car race. As a result, there is little time for thought and analysis during the school year. The most important thing that I'll be thinking about is what our school community can do to help each student develop his or her unique talents. I'll also be thinking closely about ways that we can create opportunities for student leadership. I'm convinced that anything we do this area benefits the individual student and the greater school community.

Thanks again for reading. As always, I welcome your comments. I'd love to hear about you or your child's view on the positives and negatives from the 2010-2011 school year. Thanks,