Yesterday, I forgot to put on deodorant. It happens once in a while. I get out of my morning routine somehow and miss that step. So what did I do as soon as class started? I told my students! I made a really big deal about how I forgot to put on my deodorant and how uncomfortable I was likely going to be the rest of the day.
I know some of you are probably raising an eyebrow. Why would I share this kind of information with my students? I’m human. That’s why. They need to be reminded of that once in a while.
Every teacher I know has stories of bumping into students at a restaurant or grocery store where the student looks absolutely dumbfounded and doesn’t know how to respond to seeing their teacher outside of school!! It’s hard enough for them to believe we exist outside of these walls. They surely don’t believe we deal with the same day-to-day things as them like deodorant and relationships and emotions and life.
I was recently asked what the ARCTIC Zone’s goal is – what are we hoping to accomplish for our students? Someone else in the conversation retorted quickly, “Well, obviously they’re trying to increase engagement.” That’s part of it, of course, but I found the question to be more complicated than I realized. On my own, later that day, I began jotting down a quick list of the things I personally hope the ARCTIC Zone is able to support or improve for our students.
I do hope to increase engagement. I want to practice and improve executive functioning skills like time-management, organization, and prioritization. I want to develop and grow soft skills like creativity, collaboration, and communication. With the development of all of those things, it is also a hope that student achievement is positively impacted. I found it to be really difficult to narrow down my hopes and dreams and wants for this program. Above all, I think what I want more than anything is for my students to gain confidence in themselves and with their place in this world.
Of all blurbs of time from my past, the one I would never want to repeat is middle school. Whenever I mention to people that I teach middle school, responses are all the same, “Oh, bless you!” “Middle school?! Yikes!” “Oh my gosh, all the hormones!” It’s true middle school is one of the toughest times to experience as a human. Bodies are changing. Emotions are flying. Kids can be mean. Society can be critical. School can be tough. Finding your place in the mess of emotions and criticisms and discomfort and judgment is SO hard.
We live in a time where symptoms of depression and anxiety are appearing at younger and younger ages. Family dynamics, societal expectations, school, childhood trauma, environment, diet, medication, technology, politics – all supply pressures from different angles. Add to that puberty, identity-seeking, and relationship-navigation, and you have your typical middle school student. We often warn our students with threats about their future, “It’ll only get harder from here…” Really, though, doesn’t it get easier?
If a student can hang on through middle school, his maturity will eventually catch up with the mature level of topics and scenarios he will face in his older years. And with time, he will become more and more equip with the necessary knowledge and skills to face those scenarios with ease. So how do we help him hang on?
We make fools of ourselves and remind him that we are all only human. We let him know that sometimes we forget to put on deodorant. Sometimes we make poor decisions. Sometimes we fail.
My biggest goal with the ARCTIC Zone and with my everyday interactions with students is to remind them we are not perfect. To sprinkle them with bits of love – sometimes a little tough love when it calls for it. And to provide a boost now and then when they’re struggling to hang on.