Monday, April 20, 2009

Field Trip

I chaperoned Kyle's field trip to Boston today. I had forgotten what 7th graders were like. The last trip I chaperoned was Chris's, to the Old Man of The Mountain in 2001.

Years ago (Jonathan was born, but not Ben) I was a counselor on a Lutheran confirmation retreat for 7th-9th graders. I decided then that I really disliked 7th grade boys and 9th grade girls, for very different reasons. I got to see half of that today, with just a sniff of the other half. This is the end of 7th grade, after all, and the boys are on the verge of growing out of their spectacularly annoying behavior while the girls are showing only the first signs of theirs. Your mileage may vary, of course, as you may react to very different male-female behaviors of those ages.

Remember your own dealing with 7th graders as a group, or even your own behavior then. Remember the notes passed, the whispered confidences that were of course meant to be shared immediately with that special boy or girl, however much you protested. There is this whole network of group communication. There is an ultra-social group that interacts with each other constantly and keeps going out with each other, to no apparent end. The majority of the rest latch on at times, and want to be part of this constant temperature taking and boy-girl hothouse. They lack the social obsession and stamina, however, and retreat much of the time to same-sex interaction about things they actually care about: sports, music, styles. The last group cares only slightly for any of it, but also does not want to fall into any hard Excluded category, and so plays along.

It is developmentally very appropriate, of age cohorts bonding with each other on their way to becoming adults, of practice romance, emotional toughening, social disciplining of the herd.

Now imagine that all of this is steroidally enhanced by text messaging.

Girls take pictures of themselves holding their phone at arm's length, and send it to other phones. Then they shout four rows back on the bus "Did you get the picture I sent you?" Then they go back four rows to sit with the person to watch the photo come up. All the while, boys talk too loudly to each other and the girls, stealing gatorades or iPods right out of hands, and finding it hysterically funny not to give them back. They pass them to other boys. Girls get teary, but come right back for more once they get their stuff back. The girls that are the circulatory system of the social set, flirting badly with most boys and being devastated that the Special Boy does not see her panting heart amidst the static - eventually up the ante to exchanging phones to read what others have said to others, and everything approaches a crescendo of overinterpreting and hurt feeling. The truly mean boys then retreat behind the show-off comments of the dweeby ones, watching the girls get into stupid arguments with socially overmatched boys over whether it was all a joke.

So the hurt girls still pine for the mean boys, not realising that it was they who instigated the insults via the dweebs, who are showing off in an effort to be accepted by somebody, anybody. Or at least not rejected.

And that was just the bus trip down.

9 comments:

Erin said...

*sigh* either I have an especially "fun" group, or kids these days are just a little slow on the uptake, because you just described my 10th graders. For the last two hours of each work day I'm not a teacher anymore, I'm a nagging mom of 50.

Retriever said...

Yes, I have many fond/exaasoerated memories of being a youth minister with this age group. What helped me the most was that I was a complete nerd and backwards socially at that age, but my sister was a babe/floozy/popular kid, and my brother a "cool" dude type so I could understand (sort of) most of the groups. They are exhausting,but I love them anyway in that mix of tenderness and "stop that this instant!" Good for you for being a chaperone!

Jonathan said...

imagine experiencing that every Friday for 5 years....

Michael said...

Dan actually is expressing a preference for teaching middle school over high school. I can't say that I get it, but God bless him!

Boethius said...

I was in education at the middle school level (7th and 8th) for nine years. I recently transferred to the high school and I must say, I am really enjoying the high school students. It is refreshing not to have to put up with all the drama.

Erin said...

I loved middle school...taught it for a couple years. It takes a special person, and even then most people don't stick with it for a lifetime. It's an excellent place to start...a trial by fire sort of beginning.

Gringo said...

It's an excellent place to start...a trial by fire sort of beginning.Which also suggests that one way to increase the abysmal teacher retention rates- some claim that 1/2 of teachers have exited the profession after five years- would be to have more experienced teachers in middle school. Channel rookie teachers to high school or elementary, and give extensive support for rookie teachers in middle school. Which for the most part, they do not currently get.

Trial by fire has not been a successful method for teacher retention.It has been very successful in getting beginning teachers to leave the profession.

Erin said...

"Trial by fire has not been a successful method for teacher retention."

True, but from my experience, while some teachers leave because of discipline issues and lack of administrative support, most teachers leave because they are underpaid and seriously underappreciated. Few people can handle constant criticism at what is labeled to be an easy and vacation-filled job. And unfortunately, it's par for the course.

Gringo said...

Erin:
While we may disagree on the proportions in each category of reasons for leaving the teaching profession, you have made good points.

My take would be that your added categories relate more to those who leave after 5+ years. I know of a case where two 9th grade algebra teachers -out of 6 at the school -quit in mid-year to take jobs outside the profession. One for a computer company, one for financial services. They both had about 10 years experience: sorely missed. Pay and appreciation: that about covers it.

One thing for sure. The old way of teaching until you are 60-65 is no more. Very few people can endure 40 years of teaching today: whatever the reason. There are many.