Professionally, the past week-and-a-half has been one of the most rewarding I can remember. As my students and I travelled through a musical vortex of concerts, tours, adjudications, and field trips, I was constantly reminded how almost-human middle school students can be when they put their minds to it. My students performed beautifully and behaved wonderfully, and they were excited to do their best. They even brought home a trophy for their “superior” singing. Weeks like this past one are what get me through on the days when I’m certain all of my students are the spawn of Satan.
If you are (or have been) the parent of a middle school student, I’m sure you have some idea of what we go through here in the middle. Now, take those three years – the ones from 11 to 14 – and loop them over and over. Remember how you keep (or kept) telling yourself that this is “just a stage” and your child will quickly be through it? For us, it’s a never-ending, three-year-long Groundhog Day of early adolescent drama, attitude, laziness, and insecurity that can sometimes last for up to 35 years.
And we love it.
Few people who graduate with education degrees throw their caps in the air and announce “my dream is to work in a middle school!” Personally, I thought I was going to be a high school or university choral director and direct advanced singers through the great choral masterpieces. Like many, however, I stumbled into middle school and discovered that it’s where I fit the best. I love how middle school students have a constant nervous energy that can often be channeled to achieve great beauty (and, yes, great mischief).
Yesterday, I watched the video of our spring concert with my students and they filled out questionnaires detailing the strengths and weaknesses of our performance. At the bottom, I asked them if they thought they had grown as a singer. Most said “yes” and gave details, such as “I am better at singing harmonies” and “my range is much wider.” My favorite, however, came from one of my boys, who wrote:
“I have improved this year because at the beginning of the year I wasn’t actually singing.”
Sometimes, here in the middle, such small victories mean as much as a trophy.