Dear 8th Grade,
I can't seem to get away from this science based theme. Today, I am thinking about Newton's first law, "An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an outside force."
I can't help but think of all the forces in my life that have changed my not just my direction but overall velocity. We learned that velocity is what we call a vector quantity, meaning that it has a speed and direction. One of the biggest forces I faced was when my dad died. It changed the speed at which I was going, and ultimately my career path. It forced me to slow down, and reevaluate what's important to me.
When you're a teenager sometimes life appears to be going faster than it takes the earth to spin on it's axis, and you just can't seem to keep up with all the changes. Your voice is changing. Your mood is changing. Your friends are changing. Your relationships are changing. And most of the time you're not sure of what to do - and sometimes you just wish the change would stop. You feel like there are forces stronger than gravity pushing and pulling and are unsure which way to go.
I just ask that in the midst of all the change you find at least two-three things to keep consistent. It's like brushing your teeth, there are things you have an automatic reflex to complete. That never changes. You wake up, and brush your teeth. Find a few things in life that are like brushing your teeth. They become so automatic that you don't even realize you're completing them. Those are the things that keep us grounded while the world keeps spinning and we do our best to keep up.
Keep moving forward beautiful people. Put one foot in front of the other and don't quit - even when you desperately want to.
I'm proud to be your teacher.
Ms. St. Jean
Dear 8th Grade,
I’m thinking a lot about the term inertia. It’s a vocabulary word for Unit 1, “May the Forces be With You,” in Science. Inertia we said is an object’s inclination or better yet tendency to not want to move. This year it seems like sometimes we are fighting the inability to move. We are fighting to build momentum. We are fighting to move forward so we can grow. But I think we all have some habits that are detrimental to us moving forward. And we have to fight those. We have some thoughts and ways of being that make us want to stay the same and not get better.
Life is progress. Life is progressive. At times life is cyclical, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t progressing. But my dear children, I digress, or I am not being concise or clear. What I mean is this year the work is not just about moving forward, but figuring out what forces are holding us back. Why when faced with a myriad or many decisions do we humans choose to stay in the same place?
We are, my dear people, resistant to change. It’s our nature. We rather stay still and conserve energy. But we need to move. We need to get on it. We need to look at what isn’t working and push ourselves forward. We know that force is a push or pull. I think this year my job is to really help push you forward so that you can reach your goals. It’s my job to hold you accountable.
Your job is to hold me accountable, and boy are you all doing a great job at that! You guys remember so much. I find that kids will forget to do their homework, forget they have other responsibilities, but they will never forget a promise made by an adult! Why is that?!!! [Insert TEACHER + EVERY ADULT WAIL here.]
Helping you this year is helping me to be a better teacher. You are quite literally forcing me to come up with new strategies, and innovative ways of teaching content. I feel like I am being pushed and pulled – this is not a bad thing. It actually is a good thing, because you are moving me forward as a learner and a teacher. I am learning how to better differentiate content and processes, and for that I am grateful. My brain is being stretched. I don’t get it all – yet – and neither do you - yet. But together we will push past this inertia as we find our motivation. Let’s get moving people. You know my motto: "Head up, heart up, and keep moving forward."
Ms. St. Jean
Dear 8th Grade,
Two of you asked me if I could write a letter once a week. I’m not going to lie, this year I feel like I’m at capacity. But for something like this I can always make more room.
Between this week and last there have been a lot of tears over academics. Some of us feel like we can’t focus. Others have said, “I’ve never been good at this.” And some of us have said nothing - and that nothing has spoken loudest of all. The nondisclosure is disclosure. This means that by not saying anything you have told me everything. Walking around or circulating in Math, Science, or Social Studies, I am peeking at notebooks, peering into faces and searching for answers of how I can best be serving you lovely people.
One of the most potent conversations I had this week was with someone who is charming and disarming. I shared with this student that I had been listening to a podcast. The podcast was about our support systems.
“We compare, we compete, and sometimes we get so tired of playing this game that we just check out,” she said. I think that’s something that happens or occurs so much in 8th grade. You’ve learned and internalized this idea of what it means to be a successful student. Being successful means check marks, and stamps, and “Great jobs,” from the teacher. So sometimes you pretend to have it all together. Can I tell you that adults do the same thing? I’m learning not to pretend anymore. I’m learning to reach out when I need help. I’m learning to trust. Maybe you, like me, have been hurt in relationships with people, in this case teachers you trusted to help you. Instead you had a negative interaction that left you feeling some type of way. So you stopped asking questions, you stopped saying, “I need help.” You just stopped doing the work. And maybe people missed that because in class you’re kind, and quiet or pleasant and super charming - and teachers are so happy to have compliant behavior that we have just missed the problem or that fact that you had a complaint.
This year your cover has been blown. You have teachers who are intentional. We ask questions to the point of annoyance and persist with calling parents. We are sounding the alarm that you need help. Please know that teachers like me are not trying to embarrass you but help. I want us to disrupt the narratives or the stories we have been telling ourselves about intelligence, and learn to operate differently.
This woman in the podcast said that we start to compose. We went over this word a few times this year. We talked about composition as writing, or having a composition notebook. She said in her podcast that we begin to compose or put together a persona. In other words we start to fake it. Middle schoolers smell fake and inauthenticity miles away. You can call it out. So I’m inviting you to be safe in the classroom and be honest about what you don’t understand. Your honesty will find help; when you add help with honesty things will change. That doesn’t mean you will understand all the content overnight, but it does mean that you will find strategies to deal with your struggle. A struggle isn’t the end but an invitation. I invite you to become purposeful about how you learn. Let’s be intentional about admitting things to those in your support system - your teachers, your family, and friends.
Ms. St. Jean
Ms. St. Jean
Native New Yorker teaching and living the middle school life, using this site to keep it 100. My students are the embodiment of joy.