Saturday, September 23, 2006

Ode to Junior High Kids

It's been 10 years now since I retired from being a junior high/middle school guidance counselor and, though the first few fall seasons after retirement found me sighing with relief whenever I saw a school bus, I've gotten past that "thank God I'm not doing that anymore" stage and have moved into a nostalgia phase.

LinguistFriend admires those who work with early adolescents and I would never say it's not hard, but it's remarkably satisfying, once one has learned not to take personally anything a 13 year old says. I probably wasn't the world's greatest at what I did, but I did have fun.

Here's what I liked about it:
1. These kids are funny. They don't necessarily mean to be, but they are funny.
2. They are also sure that no adults like them. So it's a huge surprise to them to be liked by an adult, especially one in authority who is not their mother.
3. They are so very human. In an early adolescent, we see all the pluses and minuses of humankind---amplified by hormones and the confusions of teenagehood.
4. They feel their feelings. Joy is tremendous and voiced exuberantly. Sorrow is overwhelming and voiced with anguish.
5. They are still a bit malleable and interested in what adults think.
6. They want to admire the adults in their lives and, paradoxically, argue with everything adults say.
7. An adult who deliberately does something goofy may be ridiculed but is also secretly adored and the kid complains about the goofiness even as s/he secretly hopes for more.
8. They love and hate their parents at the same time. My son always walked 20 feet ahead of me or behind me at the mall until he turned 16. And if I was buying underwear for him, he disappeared.
9. They are curious but want to appear as though they already know everything worth knowing. In some ways, many adults, including myself, have never moved out of this stage.
10. Parents are so grateful that someone likes their kid and sees worthiness in a lump of clay which has suddenly morphed into an unrecognizable being, a being that snarls at previously-respected parents and sleeps until noon or later all weekend.
11. Best of all, it was fabulous preparation for becoming a parish minister. There are a lot of similarities between early adolescents and normal adults in a UU congregation and it's one of the reasons I love my work.

I believe I am a better minister because of 25 years spent with junior high kids. I am much less surprised by the petty squabbles and attitudes of my congregants because I know they are perfectly normal. I worry much less than others about the consequences of those squabbles because I have some skills at helping people work them out. And I have lots of practice at seeing past the blemishes and scowls on the surface to the heart of the human miracle before me, who just wants to belong, just wants to be liked, just wants to have his/her thoughts heard and validated.

1 comment:

LinguistFriend said...

You might send your sketch to whoever recruits for such work. It sounds like you have a healthy perspective. However, I become continually less optimistic when I see what has happened to the same students by the end of high school. I told a friend today that I was very lucky to have gone through elementary school before able women were allowed to get more advantageous jobs, so I had excellent elementary teachers.
I like the miracle phraseology. It is rather silly for us UUs to make much of the notion that miracles in their Christian conception must be rejected, when real miracles are all around us. I also become discouraged to think that it will be required for Pope John XXIII to have done four miracles in some trivial sense before he can be declared a saint at the level of canonization, while it will never be enough for Albert Schweitzer, for whom the accomplishment of medical miracles was routine.