Education Opinion

Confessions of a Former 13-Year-Old

By Jessica Shyu — March 13, 2007 1 min read

As a middle school teacher, I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to recall life at 13.

Since I was suddenly launched into the role of teacher two years ago, I struggle to remember how my favorite educators set up their classroom routines, how they taught fractions and what color pens they used to mark errors. I desperately try to dredge up these memories, because those were the most thorough classroom observations I had ever conducted. Surely if I could repeat their teaching strategies, I could recreate their successes as well, right?


It’s only been 10 years since I roamed the halls of Cabin John Middle School as a student, but I can barely remember what we learned in 6th grade Reading, let alone how it was taught. Did we learn to read through whole word or phonics? How did the teacher explain similes? How did I learn to write a complex sentence? I wrack my mind for the vaguest of memories that might guide me in teaching my own students.

But instead of remembering how the Social Studies teacher taught us through project-oriented units, I remember inane details that won’t help me as a instructor. Such as how Elena and I made a deal in Spanish class to switch seats each day so we could take turns sitting beside the oh-so-cute Kevin. And how I skipped gym class to go to the library. And that Mrs. Dennis wore a wig.

I also remember the loneliness of wandering the hallways in the morning without a “clique” to hang out with. I remember the humiliation of changing for gym class during that time of the month. And the fury and shame that coursed through me when I heard my first racial slur. I recall how it felt to feel fat at 13. And how feeling unpretty was far worse than earning a bad grade.

So, no, I don’t remember much of what was taught in the middle school classroom. My students’ education may very well be worse off because I have no idea how Mr. Sindall ran those incredible Social Studies simulations in 5th grade.

But that’s a pretty good indication of how I need to prioritize for my students. They have been learning and they have been improving academically, but the real take-home ideas for them are probably not going to be that awesome lesson I did on similes. Rather, it’s probably going to be how the teacher praised them. And what the other kid said to them. And how it felt to be 13.

The opinions expressed in On the Reservation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.