Book Smart Aleck
Closing Time Of My Life

Some quotes from middle school kids through the years

Closing Time Of My Life

Teacher school did not prepare me for any of this.

Big news: I am now a high school teacher! I accepted a position at a local high school to teach English, not because anything was bad about my old middle school, the staff, or the kids; I am just ready for a change in my career after having spent all of it (11 years) teaching 8th grade English! I want to reflect on some of the… amazing… things I have heard middle school kids say over the years as one way to bid farewell to that phase of my life and profession. Buckle up!

There are a lot of writing-related challenges in a middle school English classroom, especially in the world of computer spellcheck and autocorrect we now live in. (I just ended a sentence with a preposition; language is ever-evolving, so you can let go of your pearls, pedants.) So when students are forced to write on a piece of paper with a pencil, using nothing more than their brains, the results can be interesting and even entertaining. One student despaired, “I’m honestly at a breaking point. How do you spell ‘dun,’ like ‘dun-dun-DUN’?” Apparently it was a very dramatic writing project.

“There’s no ‘i’ in poetry?” another once asked. No, but there is one in “spelling.”

During a creative writing assignment, one student mused, “A thesaurus is the opposite of a dictionary. You go to a thesaurus when you know the definition but need the word.” Well, she wasn’t entirely wrong…

As I was writing an example sentence on the board during a grammar lesson, I said, “And now I think I’ll get a little fancy and put in a semicolon.”

A student cried from the back of the room, “Put your pinky up!” (I did.)

Moving on from content to social behavior: shoes are a big deal for middle school kids. A HUGE deal. Especially to boys. Especially to sporty boys with shoes that cost more than I would ever spend on a pair of shoes even for myself, let alone for someone who will outgrow them in six months! So it wasn’t surprising when I heard one 8th grade boy sadly mutter, looking at his baby blue suede Air Jordans, “I wish dirt wasn’t a factor.”

Speaking of fashion, this was said by a kid who never wore long pants, only basketball shorts, no matter what month it was or what the weather was like: “I’m wearing pants today! But I could take them off at any time.” Then, after a second of horrified silence from those around him, he added, “I have shorts on underneath.” We were all glad for the clarification.

“I don’t care if I smell like a girl. It smells good.” This from a boy after he had put on chapstick he borrowed from a female friend. I admire his confidence. And yes, middle school kids share chapstick. And water bottles. Once, I even saw a pair of friends share a sucker. I just try not to think about it too much.

I don’t remember what this kid had been doing, and I don’t remember the answer I wanted to get from him, but it wasn’t the answer I got. I prompted him, “What’s the rule? You come into my classroom, and you…?”

“Act like a human?” he supplied. (He may have heard me make this request of his classmates a few times.) Well, sure, I’ll take it. That’s a good goal to strive for as often as possible, at least in an English classroom.

Once, during passing period, I overheard one kid tell another, “Don’t worry about it, it’s an inside joke.”

The second student looked confuzzled for a moment, then asked, “What’s an outside joke?” and was completely serious in her query.

A kid asked me, during a cut-and-paste activity, “Hey, can I borrow your glue stick, dawg?” Then he looked mortified that he’d said that to a teacher.

I just laughed and handed it to him, saying, “Sure, here you go, bro.” With teenagers, you’ve got to do your best to roll with the new slang. And occasionally either horrendously misuse it or use really old (2+ years) slang just to see the cringe faces they make.

One very memorable student from my third year of teaching, who I’m sure will show up in another article sometime (he put a curse on my classroom–it’s a long story) said indignantly, “I didn’t kiss her! I pecked her with my nose like a chicken!” This was not even the weirdest thing this kid said. It probably wasn’t the weirdest thing he said that week.

Finally, a lesson we could all stand to be reminded of now and then, but which is particularly apt for middle school kids:

One student said, “I don’t even think about what I say.”

Another student replied, “Maybe you should.”

I know that my high school students will also say… amazing… (funny, heartwarming, stupid, crazy) things, but nothing beats that bizarre time when, metaphorically speaking, young humans go from a cute, squishy caterpillar into a gross blob of goo inside a chrysalis before they can emerge as beautiful butterflies (you know, around age 26, when their frontal lobe is fully connected to the rest of their brain). I will kind of miss this particular stage of goo.

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