What Do Kids Think On The First Day of Middle School?

Summer is finally over. Parents are secretly smiling as they shoo their kids out the door, snap a few first day of school photos and sigh. Yes, some of you might shed a few tears over the passage of time and the impending high school graduation – even if it’s still five years away. And some of you try to walk your kids to their first class in middle school (a big no-no) and even more of you hover in the parking lot or your local coffee shop and quietly wonder what’s happening to your kid inside the walls of their 7th and 8th grade classrooms.

As I start my 25th year of middle school, I thought I’d give you a sneak peek. And one thing your kids say might just be true: the first day of school can be a real snoozer. Far too many teachers fill their first moments with kids drilling them with rules and consequences, with syllabi and seriousness.

Fortunately, I came to my senses and gave that up long ago. Middle school is about relationships. It’s about smiling, about showing you care, and letting kids know that school can actually be fun – even when it’s not lunch or passing period.

On the first day of school, I like to mix it up and actually do an activity that gets kids thinking, analyzing and moving straight away. One of my favorites is called “Post the post it on the poster”.

My motivation here is two fold: I want kids to know what I’m thinking about as I start the year, and I also am surreptitiously watching how they move, who they gravitate towards and of course, how they respond to my questions.

How would you answer these?

middle school teachers

One of my favorite (and most common) responses: little did I know I’d have to channel my inner entertainer when I began teaching middle school!

middle school teachers

Do you think this kid is serious, or just trying to make nice with the new teacher?

middle school teacher

No, this wasn’t the “what kind of a teacher do you want” question – this one was about what kids should be doing in the classroom. Ha ha!

middle school kid advice

I love when they tell me what to do – and boy, do they love to tell me…

middle school teacher advice

And yes, they definitely have their priorities straight about why they’re there:

middle school

Of course, I have to bring it back around to the beginning of the year, and have them think about themselves (middle school kids LOVE to think about themselves!):

middle school goal setting

No pressure, huh? Can you believe how many of them set goals around their grades? Is that their parents talking?

middle school goals

This one was my favorite. I wish I knew who wrote it, but then again, it doesn’t really make much difference. Be the best we can be. Be open to new things. If we can accomplish that goal, we’re going to have an amazing year.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Autumnal Resolutions and A Quest for Perfection

English: Autumn on High Street Autumnal view o...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve never really left school. Well, that’s not exactly true. I did take a gap year between college and earning my teaching credential. And then there was that one year after Cameron was born – the only year in the last 14 – that I haven’t stood in front of 13-year-olds on a first day of school. I’ve changed the ways I teach the first day over the years, moving from teacher directed bore-them-to-tears rants about rules and procedures towards student centered get-them-writing-and talking activities.

So I find myself, the last evening of Labor Day weekend, home and going over the first of 52 weeks of grading. Only three official days in, and nothing has really changed. I still got the first day jitters, I still spent the weekend in my classroom preparing lessons, and I still wonder how I’ll make this year better than the last. I strive for something close to perfection.

As I was skimming over their freshly written ‘author pages’, one question and response kept jumping out at me: a far too overwhelming number said their one goal for this year was to get straight As.

They’re 13 years old at best. They want to be perfect. Boys and girls – no difference there. And I sit here, taking in the enormity of their request, and wonder – is that what THEY really want?

And this time, after teaching 23 years of 7th, 8th and 9th graders, I just stopped and sighed, and I realized that if this was what my kids were expecting, I might be the very person to keep them from reaching their goals. I just cannot imagine a world where everyone is perfect.

And it made me think about my own kids, my own life, and how as I move closer and closer to my fifth decade of living, how this idea of perfection has ridden copilot with me for a great long part of my life, too.

For me, the rhythm of the academic year has always been the back beat to my life. New Year’s Resolutions haven’t had much impact; for me, it’s the autumnal resolutions that make most sense. This autumn, I’m back at it. What do I really want from this year? What will make my heart shine, my spirit ignite, and in June, what will I feel I’ve done that made a difference?

It’s most certainly not about personal perfection for me. That quest was left behind in the last decade – no sense in revisiting that now.

It’s taken me a few days to write this, mainly, I think, due to that idea of how to simultaneously push kids towards their future while teaching them that life is oh, so much more than a quest for an “A”. How do I show them that it’s so much more about the experiences along the way, the knowledge they soak up as they read and write and talk and think…how do I teach them to WANT it? The idea that learning and success take grit, that no matter what comment I write on their essay, or what grade they earn on a test, that learning doesn’t end at the bell, that every day is ‘to be continued’ and all we can do is our best. How can I show them that really the only goal I have for them this year is that they walk out the door in June feeling that they are stronger, more confident, thinking deeper and just a touch more articulate than they were when they walked in last week?

My autumnal resolutions. I’ve got some work to do, and not just in the classroom.

What about you, dear reader? What is your autumnal resolution? Are you on the perfection quest, too?

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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On the Corner of Dream Ave. and Believe St.: Stepping Out Of Our Comfort Zone

“To the degree we’re not living our dreams, our comfort zone has more control over us than we have over ourselves.”

                             ~ Peter McWilliams

comfort zone
From angelvillanueva.com

What is on the other side of change?  How often, when we find ourselves happily cruising down the  road of life, do we stop and think about what’s next? The superstitious among us might not want to jinx a good thing-why think about what might be around the next bend? Why not just keep on chugging forward? Don’t rock the boat? The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, right?

I’m wondering if maybe it actually is.

As Peter McWilliams, author of Do It! Let’s Get Off Our Buts and Life 101: Everything We Wish We Had Learned About Life in School—But Didn’t says, if we really want to live our dreams, perhaps we should think what’s just beyond the horizon or around the corner. Pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone means a momentary loss of control-scary for some of us, exhilarating for others.

Living in our comfort zone is safe.  We know what to expect, and we often feel guaranteed of the outcome.  That is, well, comforting.  Whether it’s the salary we earn from a job we don’t feel passionate about, or a relationship we are used to, a weight we feel is ok, or a dream we think we’ll never achieve, staying put is only a guarantee that the part of life that is comfortable will likely stay the same.

But is that living our dreams? Are we simply designed to be content, with only the renegades among us willing to take a risk?

12 7 iNDONESIA TRIP 110Last summer, I traveled to Indonesia-a place I never considered as part of my life travel itinerary. That experience propelled me to take dozens of risks, including getting incredibly cozy with a Komodo dragon. I remember the palpitation of my heart, the baby steps I took, first touching the back, the tail, and them finally getting close enough to his face to brush my lips to his scales.  Recently, the Jakarta Globe’s story of a Komodo attack that left two people in the hospital prompted discussion among our travel group: were we courageous, or simply stupid?  I say, courageous.

I think of the pioneer women who traveled across the west without any clue of what lay before them. They stuffed their wagons full of all the comforts of life, sure that their china, linens, furniture and even their beloved piano would not only safely make the trip, but also provide the much desired civilization they left behind.  Leaving their comfort zone often meant following their husband’s dreams, not their own. But they went anyway, knowing they might never go back. I’m sure komodo dragons weren’t on their worry radar, but undoubtedly the fear of the unknown, the fear for their children, and their second guessing of their decision as they huddled over a campfire for the hundredth time must have seriously tested their strength.

The curveballs life throws today’s women is similar.  Many of us follow expected gender roles, marry, have children, and put our careers second to raising the family.  Others forgo the traditional route, choosing instead to follow their dream job at the expense of what our mother’s generation could barely fathom.  Still other women try to balance both, exhausting themselves between juggling babies, bosses and never feeling wholly present in both worlds. Like the pioneer women, we ruminate over our choices, wondering if we’re on the right path.

Stepping out of our comfort zone, regardless of our social, marital or work status, requires a leap of faith; sure that our future can be more than this, that our life is ours to create.  It requires courage, determination, and often, a bit of impracticality.  Taking calculated risks that push us towards our boundaries, to find out what is on the other side of change, is scary.  Like a rocket shooting off into the darkness of the universe, sometimes we must trust that the plans have been laid, but the process might bow,flex and bend us into places we least expected to land.

Power-shift
Power-shift (Photo credit: Brett Jordan)

With all our feminist advances, women today have no guidebook to navigate motherhood, marriage and the myriad of opportunities in front of us. I say that’s a good thing.

Consider that your comfort zone is perfect for where you’ve been and where you are right now. Consider going at your own pace, placing opportunities in front of you like a master chess player, sometimes hoping that the risky move won’t be noticed by the opponent and will propel you to the win.  Prepare for the setback, the capture, and the ultimate possibility that the grass really is greener on the other side. Think of the words author Neale Donald Walsch wrote, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Where do you want your life to begin tomorrow?

What are you waiting for? Where do you want to go in life? What have you got to lose?

Take that leap.  Step outside yourself. Take control of your dreams. Experience a little discomfort-it means that life is happening.

Let me know what changes.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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47

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.
It’s the life in your years.”
– Abraham Lincoln
My Indonesian ‘dress cut’ experience

I took this seriously last year; breathing some life into areas that have been dormant, neglected, or otherwise overlooked.  Another year of happiness, laughter and lessons learned – here are some of my favorites:

Go big.

This year was really about trying something new-all the time.  I forced myself in directions I never knew I was interested in or qualified for.  I wrote-a lot.  I threw it all out there and watched where it landed, pushed a few pieces into place, and found some that had gone missing.  I learned that going big is often scary, but always worth it.

Let go.
My kids officially grew taller than me this year.  It actually was a humbling experience when my baby boy passed me up.  Watching my daughter drive away from me for the first time chipped a piece off my heart, reminding me  I had to let go and trust that everything has a way of working itself out.  I released some habits and situations that weren’t working for me, looking for more positive instead of negative.  I learned that letting go is growing forward.
Work hard.
I surely did that this year.  I pushed for my best and tried not to repeat what wasn’t working for me.  I showed up.  I tried.  I learned that working hard is exhausting, but creates energy in the right places.
Be humble.
I went places this year that I never imagined I would.  I felt outnumbered, out of place, and out of control.  I remember the calls to prayer, the fears, and the deep sense of respect at how small a world we live in, yet what a large part I can play.  I learned that being humble can bring safety and comfort, and that relinquishing control can reveal a whole new perspective.

Say no.
Learning to stand up for ourselves can take a lifetime.  Watching bullying, in our community, our country, and our world gave me the power to practice saying no.  Daily, I listened to one of my college interns call out ‘Make good choices’ to my students as they exited my classroom door, and tried to do the same.  I learned that saying no allows me to say yes when I want to, and that going with my gut is usually takes me in the right direction.
Be grateful.
Obama’s elementary school in Jakarta

I saw people and places this year that shattered my heart and made me fearful for our future.  I met people who lifted me up, taught me about hope, and reminded me to make peace with what I have, where I am, and who I’m with.  This year, I learned that blessings come in a multitude of ways, and that happiness and gratitude hold hands.

As I end 47 and open the chapter of 48, I think of all that I’ve experienced:  the children, parenting, family, teaching, education, memories and motherhood that blended themselves together and brought such lessons to me.  Typing this, I’m reminded of all that I hold close, and all that is yet to come.  I’m happy about 47, and watch out 48- I’ve got big ideas waiting to throw at you.  This is definitely not the time to feel old!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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The Plunge: Taking A Dive Into Life

I have never dived off a high dive, scuba dived, sky dived or ski raced.  I don’t like heights, and can’t imagine anything worse than freefalling through space.  Aside from never having a career as an astronaut or stunt woman, it hasn’t really impacted me that much.  That is, until I saw my children taking WAY more chances than I ever have or anticipate doing in my lifetime.
My kids like to go fast and get to the top of things.  Since they were independently mobile they have consistently sought the highest point and the quickest route to get there.  My son has no fear.  I would say that it’s a boy-thing, but his sister is usually right in front of him in line for each adventure.  When Lily was very, very small she entertained the parents watching their young swimmers at Community Pool by decisively jumping off the high dive.  I think she was all of three or four years old, and she just jumped.  I nearly fell off the concrete steps, but she just popped right up and the crowd cheered.
My daughter started gymnastics at age 2 and continued for 12 more years, defying gravity and making me hold my breath at every competition.  She only stopped recently to focus on ski racing and proudly texted me in May when she was clocked going 60 mph on a radar gun.  On skis.
This week I watched her brother dutifully complete his swimming lessons each day at Community Pool, knowing that when the whistle blew he would be able to satisfy his yearning to fly.  Eagerly he scurried up the high dive ladder, trotted along the diving board and flung his body towards the lifeguard tower, only at the very last moment dipping his head down and diving into the deep end.  As if time was suspended, I flashed back to years earlier when his sister performed her own defiance of gravity, and held my breath until he surfaced.  Over and over again he jumped, soared and dove, each plunge pushing him further and further towards his goal of reaching the lifeguard tower, each leap delineating the courage that I will never have.
Watching my children dive into life, I have learned that I need to trust that they will be ok.  They might try different moves, from different altitudes, at different speeds, and sometimes they might even surface sputtering and out of breath.  But they keep pushing forward, determined to take it a little bit farther each time, and that makes me shine with pride.  What courage they have-courage that I’m still learning.  That, and how to not pass out from holding my breath until they come up for air.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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