“fake it ’til you make it”

I have never felt so much love and hatred as I did for 8th graders.

I taught two sections of a combined 7th/8th grade North Carolina history class my first year of teaching. One section met before lunch and included a healthy mix of male and females of varying maturity levels. The other section was at the end of the day and included approximately 20 students, 18 of whom were male. It was my greatest challenge.

Each of them had their own personalities, but when combined I found that their sole purpose in life was to make me miserable. For example, after I painstakingly arranged a seating chart for this male-dominated class, I realized there was still a trouble spot on the far side of the room. Before too long (but later than the rest of the class), I learned why.  One of these clever young men whose seat was next to the door took it upon himself to ask in a low, hushed voice, “Did you poop?” every time someone came back from the restroom. He was the gatekeeper of the class, and no one could enter until the status of their bowels was ascertained.

Most of these students were academically sharp. Let’s be honest, this was a private school. Their breeding and background had all the makings of success – mostly two-parent homes, upper middle class, etc. They misbehaved because they were 8th grade boys, they got bored, and I was a 1st year teacher who did not know how to handle the situation.

One such individual who shall remain nameless was particularly skilled at dominating the attention of his peers. All of the shenanigans that I discovered amounted to only half of the incidents that he was responsible for. And this was old school stuff, too, like spit balls across the room, wedgies, etc. On one particular afternoon, I had finally had enough and I made the threat. “You can expect a call home to parents this evening.”

Little did he know that this would be my first phone call home to a parent, which was just as nerve-wracking for me as it was for him. I waited until what I thought was an appropriate time – after work, before dinner, and early enough so that he would know it was me calling. The phone rang, and his father answered. I identified myself, he listened patiently, took a deep breath, and told me something I will never forget.

“Mrs. Russ, do you have any kids of your own?”

“No sir.”

“Well, then here’s what I’ll tell ya. You gotta ‘fake it til ya make it’.”

Silence. Nervous laughter. “Excuse me?”

“There’s this look that he responds to. You don’t even have to say anything, but if you just stop what you’re doing for a few seconds, look him in the eye in a way that let’s him know you’re serious, he’ll get the message. You don’t have kids, but you can fake it til you do.”

This was a pivotal moment in my teaching career, and in my life. Why had no one told me about this “look” before? How had I never picked up on this from my own parents?

Sure enough, I had a chance to practice the next day, and it was beautiful. Perhaps we had an understanding because I had carried out my threat of calling home. Or maybe he was actually terrified of what was behind my eyes when I gave him the look. But either way, I now felt like a real teacher.

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the skate party

Mark your calendars!  October 19th is the first skate night of the school year! 

I was delightfully appalled when I heard the news.  Then I remembered that I teach middle school.  I was even more shocked to learn that many of my students avoid the $2.50 skate rental fee because they own their own roller skates. 

What I was most amused with were the variety of reactions from my students when I announced that I had Skate Night permission forms to pass out.  Several of my 8th graders are still 7th graders – they are silly, fun, smelly, quirky, and wouldn’t know “cool” if it slapped them in the face.  They immediately expressed interest in Skate Night.

Then there are the 13-going-on-30 year olds.  They are only in 8th grade because it’s required by law.  Otherwise, they are cooler and more mature than their peers, and me for that matter.  They have no interest in Skate Night, and find it necessary to scoff at those who do.

My favorite 8th graders though are the truest ones, the students who feel the conflict between where they are, where they’ve been, and where they know they’re meant to be.  Deep down, they know a skate party is ridiculous, but it’s also ridiculously awesome, and they’re not ready to let go of that.  I think they’ll be pleasantly suprised to find that we eventually come full circle, and grown adults wish they could clear their calendars to attend Skate Night.