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
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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.