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Middle school mayhem


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Throw away every kind, thoughtful or genteel thing you’ve ever learned. Do not offer your hand upon introducing yourself. Never hold the door open for anyone — especially not for a girl. No, strike that, boy or girl, same story. And whatever you do, never, ever admit to liking, respecting or even tolerating your parents.

This is a page out of our middle school preparatory training manual. My 12 year old son, Levi, starts middle school at a new school in four days. It’s his first foray into the public school system and he doesn’t know a single soul. So we’re all a little nervous about how he’ll like it and whether or not he’ll fit in easily, etc…

For those of you who don’t know Levi, he’s not your ordinary 12 year old boy. He’s delightfully chivalrous,  amazingly mature, deeply thoughtful and incredibly sensitive. Having these traits has necessitated some serious middle school tutoring.

My best friend in LA told me a horror story about her eldest son holding the door open for other students the first few weeks of his middle school experience. He was “dork” labelled and alienated for three quarters of the year. Luckily he found his niche and figured out that kindness and consideration were not attributes a middle schooler ought to display.

Another friend of ours was horrified upon meeting my son that he had warmly extended his hand, smiled broadly and happily introduced himself using his first and last name. “He’s not gonna do that in middle school?” My pal asked anxiously.

“No,” I stammered. “Of course not. He can be just as unfriendly and ill-mannered as any other child.” I grabbed Levi and fled the scene.

Once we were safely ensconced in the car, I clarified to him that going to middle school was a lot like going to a foreign country. It’s important to observe the culture and learn the language so you don’t inadvertently find yourself in the middle of an uncomfortable international fiasco. No standing out. No drawing attention to yourself. “Middle school is like a water color painting,” I advised, “Best done in muted shades that blend together easily.” What can I say? It was the best I could come up with on short notice.

“But I thought I was always supposed to be myself?” My son curiously inquired. “You’ve always told me to let my unique personality out and if people don’t like me it’s their problem, not mine.”

“Yes. Yes, I did,” I conceded. “But that hasn’t worked out all that well for us thus far. And all bets are off in middle school. Fitting in, laying low and not rocking any boats — that is our new M.O. By the way,” I added, “Do not, under any circumstance, admit to liking your parents or enjoying our company. That is a number one middle school faux pas.”

“I don’t think I’m going to like middle school, mom,” he said with the resignation of a soldier being sent to the front line.

“That’s okay,” I told him. “In fact, that’s perfect. Because no one likes middle school. Good job, buddy. Way to fit in.”

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About gettrich

Debra Rich Gettleman is a professional actor, playwright and journalist living in Seattle, WA with her husband Mark and two amazing boys, Levi and Eli.

5 responses to “Middle school mayhem

  1. Hal ⋅

    Debra: My wife Diane is a middle school teacher – 8th grade English – and loved this piece. At a challenging age, these students, and she responds deeply to their shifting (minute be minute) needs. She wouldn’t teach at any other level. She will likely share this. Hal

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Hal ⋅

    PS In Diane’s classes, she makes them greet her at the start and she stands at the door and makes every student look her in the eyes as she says good-bye. Every day. Her traditionalism is today considered radical. And she is mentioned as a strong influence in a majority of the 8th grade commencement speech drafts required of all students. Middle schoolers want discipline, respect and inspiration. Not coolness. And they also want their childhood honored. Which Diane feels strongly about. They are not little adults; they are still children. Too many teachers think the answer is to treat young adolecents as world-weary 18 year-olds. It encourages incuriosity and cynicism, two traits that must be fought at every turn.

    HC

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. Levi is a leader. Let him lead .Others will follow. Don’t encourage him to lower his standards to the lowest level

    • Oscar T grouch ⋅

      I agree with Mickey. Although I’d make sure your insurance is currant and have a good emergency room near by.

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