Slaying New Dragons

IMG_5833We’re back in full school mode here, revolving our days around the tick of the academic clock. In my last post, I promised the details of my latest teaching venture, so here’s what’s going down for the current school year. After spending my entire professional teaching career teaching high school students, this year I’m splitting my time between high school and…

middle school.

Y’all, I am the most surprised among us about this most recent development. In truth, I did have some practicum experience with middle schoolers early on in my undergrad work, but do you know what this taught me about them?

Some of them bop around as a regular course of action. As in, they literally make bouncy motions all over the place.

For no reason at all.

Some of them regularly make sounds that don’t form into the words of any language I’ve ever heard.

For no reason at all.

Why would one do these things?

I really don’t know.

(Yes, I am aware that I am the blogger who, on more than one occasion, has confessed to doing something “just because I can” or “because it pleases me.” So it’s not lost on me that this might be a case of what goes around comes around.)

At any rate, this year I’m teaching seventh grade English as well as ninth grade English. And I will say, after a few days of working with the middle creatures (not, in most cases, to be confused with the creatures from Tolkien’s Middle-earth), they kind of rock I’m cautiously optimistic.

They’re already making me laugh, and none of them seem to be donning the gothic-looking garment of apathy found on some of their older counterparts. Plus, they do really fascinating things. The other day, for instance, I actually caught a student passing an old-fashioned note.

Y’all, after confiscating what turned out to be an innocuous message, I had the best flashbacks of my own middle school note-passing experiences. When I was in seventh grade myself, for instance, a note headed my way was intercepted by my teacher, who immediately began reading it aloud before fully comprehending its message: the note’s author was breaking up with me. Not to worry, however: I’d only gone out with him in the first place because of peer pressure, and the relationship had soured when I started suspecting that he wasn’t bathing regularly. Even better, my awesome best friend piped up right away and pointed out both the redundancy and the hilarity of the note, since I had, in fact, already broken up with the note’s author two weeks prior. In retrospect, communication issues may have also led to the relationship’s demise. After all, the communication/hygiene failure combo is a one-two punch few relationships can survive.

In any case, in terms of curriculum this year, in ninth grade we’re starting with the theme of Loss of Innocence and reading To Kill a Mockingbird, a book I’ll never tire of teaching or reading. In seventh grade, we’re starting with the theme of The Hero and the Quest, and along with some of the Arthurian legends, we’re also reading Freak the Mighty.

In Freak the Mighty, the character Max, a large, awkward boy trying to escape the sins of his father, tells the story of meeting his best friend Kevin, a tiny, brilliant kid suffering from the effects of a rare form of dwarfism. The boys are essentially social outcasts who form an alliance that turns their would-be weaknesses into strengths. In the chapter we just read yesterday, after working together to outsmart the town bully, Max ends the chapter with these words: “That’s how it started, really, how we got to be Freak the Mighty, slaying dragons and fools and walking high above the world.”

IMG_5897I guess that’s much how this new quest begins too, with teacher and middles forging an alliance that hopefully will, in the end, lead to many slain dragons and much high bopping walking.

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