The people I work with have very mixed feelings and varied analyses of our kids, but pretty much everyone agrees on one thing. (So please forgive the coming generalizations, because apparently this is commonly agreed upon.) Since the first day of school, I’ve been told constantly that these kids will not trust you completely until you’ve been around for awhile. They are so used to being left by others because even their parents, who children are supposed to rely upon, are often missing, dead, in prison, or deported. They move often, their friends move often, and their lives are constantly changing. By middle school, they’ve learned not to open up to people who are likely to just disappear.
When I was in middle school, I was taught by a team of 4 middle-aged women who had been there forever and would be there forever after I left. We loved them, trusted them, and knew we could go back and find them there later. I took that for granted. In my current school, the entire staff is young because no one stays long. I’m at least the third 8th grade math teacher in three years. One of our classes has had three official teachers (and numerous subs) this year alone. The kids know from experience that I might not be here next year, and so they’re reluctant to open up to another adult on the verge of vanishing. I never realized that starting new would bring that type of challenges, but it finally sank in when I met with my assistant principal about Period 3. He told me that I had been doomed from the start in part because these kids were never going to trust a new person for the first year, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it except wait for next year. Unfortunately, I’m guilty until proven innocent on this one.
I’ve noticed that as the kids feel themselves start to like me (during a fun class, in afterschool tutoring, even just as the year wears on), they will suddenly ask if I’ll be here next year. When I say yes, they look relieved and tell me they’ll come visit. One of my biggest behavior problems actually said, “Wow, you’re a survivor! You’re really going to stick this out?”
You’d think 8th graders wouldn’t care where I’m going next year, but apparently consistency is more important than I ever realized. I’m excited for the difference everyone promises I’ll see next year, when my new students will be used to seeing me around and won’t be worried that I’ll abandon them midyear. That could be very nice.