Anyone who has taught middle school for any length of time will tell you that seventh grade is a rough year for many students. Parents will probably tell you the same thing. Therefore, as a team one of our goals was to create a community among seventh graders. The idea was to get students working together effectively and create a sense of connectedness. In other words, we wanted to ensure that seventh graders do not feel like the forgotten middle children of middle school. Our team has worked on various strategies to meet those goals, but this month I feel we were exceptionally successful.
Last year, I was inspired by a photo essay project called the Fearless Project. The Fearless Project focuses on LGBT athletes. While I didn’t think that would be fitting for our goals, I liked the idea of a photo project. I wanted a way for students to be publicly acknowledged and allow people get to know one another in a different way besides as students in a class. When I brought the idea to the team, they were on board immediately.
“And though she be but little, she is fierce.” –A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Recently, I was watching the regional competitions for American Ninja Warrior. I’m obsessed with the level of fitness people must have to compete in this obstacle course. However, I was watching this particular Regional for one purpose—to watch Kacy Catanzaro. She was the first woman to complete the qualifying course and to complete the full course on American Ninja Warrior to qualify for nationals. I wanted to see her run for myself. The question in my head was why did it take six seasons for a woman to get this far in this competition.
In an interview following her successful run, Catanzaro explained why she thought no other woman had made it that far yet, “It’s just because there was always that doubt in the back of their minds, that no girl’s ever done it, or that some people might say no girl can do it, or girls aren’t as fast, girls aren’t as strong—all of these things that women are used to hearing.” She refused to listen to the negative thoughts, and she succeeded.
So, what does this have to do with education? Reading Catanzaro’s interview, made me think of my students. Those students that say they just aren’t good at _______. By the time students reach middle school, they have a lot of preconceived notions about what they can and cannot do. Perhaps, their well-intentioned parents tell them that it was okay that their grades were lower in one subject. It must not have been their strength. Perhaps, a teacher told them they were good at math, but writing just isn’t their thing. Perhaps, a content area takes a bit more work for them, so they convince themselves that they will never be successful. Whatever the cause, I feel that teachers can work to erase these doubts. However, it is the “how” of erasing these doubts that can be harder to articulate.
While I am not always successful, here are a few ways that I feel I have helped students erase doubt over the years:
When I was in graduate school, one of my textbooks was The First Days of Schoolby Harry and Rosemary Wong. Interestingly enough, it was also given to me on my first day of employment at my current school. Wong’s book is intended for new teachers to help create proper classroom management procedures and routines early in the school year, especially on the first day of school and within the first week.
I loved Wong’s book. It spoke to my need for order in chaos. However, as I began to develop my own understanding of how middle school classrooms should be. I found I preferred to create an environment of controlled chaos. As a result, I began to move away from Wong’s methodology in a few ways. I value the principle of creating routines early in the school, but I chose to do it in a more age appropriate fashion.