Education Opinion

Human Interest Story

By Hanne Denney — September 16, 2007 3 min read
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School’s in full swing, yet I feel as though I’m just getting started. I am organizing files, reading the materials for class, trying to remember all my student’s names. I’m also trying to remember all the faculty and staff names at my new school - Southern Middle School in Lothian, Maryland. Lothian is a rural/suburban community. The school is surrounded by beautiful open farm land, although housing developments continue to be a cash crop for our community. A good portion of our students live in mobile home parks. Some of our families live in expansive waterfront communities with all the privileges of boats and piers. The economic diversity is interesting, as you can never assume a student has a computer at home, or has travelled to the ocean, or has parents who read fluently. You can’t assume there are pencils at home to bring to school. I can’t assume a student had study time on Sunday afternoon, because the family may be out on their boat until late. I’m learning never to assume.

Our school team responds well to this economic diversity. We have a teacher, Ms. Manders, who collects school supplies at the end of the year as lockers are cleared out, and gives gently used pencils and notebooks to students in need in the fall. Our counselors spread the word if a child needs clothing. Many teachers keep some kind of snacks, for the student who is hungry. We also try to be aware of the student whose economic position is changing -- when a parent loses a job, a home, or a spouse. Economic shock is hard on a middle school student.

Understanding diversity also means I have to be patient when a student doesn’t understand what it might be like to have physical needs (because they have everything). Or when they talk too long about their jet ski and their dirt bike, annoying their peers who don’t have such expensive toys. Beyond these money issues, I have a lot to learn about the students as I adjust to a middle school population (instead of high school).

Here’s my first-month observations:
Some of my students are still of childhood in body and mind; others are adult-figured and of maturing brain. Some are mature of mind and childlike in appearance - so their contributions in class sometimes surprise me.
Some of my students can’t read and write more than a few words. Some are ready to be pushed into more rigorous academics. I have to develop better differentiation skills.
Some boys have not yet heard about deodorant. Some kids don’t have washing machines to keep their clothing clean. I can’t always tell why they smell unpleasant, so I am developing greater sensitivity and knowledge about poverty and personal issues.
Most of the students are still afraid to use a bad word in school (at least where an adult can hear it).
Most are still proud to get something right in class, or to earn a good grade on an assignment.
Most show their frustration openly on their faces, instead of the blank looks or heads-down I saw in high school. That makes it easier for me to see who needs help.
Most of the students are friendly, and look me in the eye as I pass in the hall, even if they are not in my class.

I am enjoying middle school so much. I thought I would miss the excitement of sporting events, but I am excited to hear about the local rec league teams. I remember what it was like when my children played for the Shady Side Seahawks. I am learning a lot about this age group, and realizing just how much more I have to learn to be a successful middle school teacher and administrator.

I’m more interested in the students than in the files and materials to be read. I’ll admit it. So I use Sunday afternoon for organizing paperwork and learning the lesson. Monday morning I’ll be there for the kids, ready to be involved with their lives.

That’s why I’m teaching, for the human interest story I get to experience every day in school.

The opinions expressed in In the Middle 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.