Challenges and Opportunities by Middle School Dean Colette Finley
In the sixth grade, I was in a battle with my parents. Sound familiar? I convinced them that I could complete all my homework, partake in all my schools’ activities and continue doing all my engagements outside of school that I had previously been doing. And I did just that. I proved my parents wrong.
Then, I switched schools in seventh grade. Again, I kept the same, busy schedule. It was about keeping myself busy, doing what I love, and proving to my parents that I can do it. However, seventh grade was different. I could no longer keep up with this daunting schedule, and the result was a feeling of failure. I saw and heard my peers discuss their similarly busy schedules, yet I seemed to be the only one unable to excel like I did previously. Why couldn’t I do it all? Was I not as smart? Would I fall behind if I didn't quit my outside activities?
Eventually, through a painful process, I was forced to cut back. Well, that’s how I saw it, cutting back. Now as I reflect on this moment, I realize that it was the first time in my young life that I had to really make choices. How often do kids have to make real choices during their elementary school careers? However, they enter middle school and are all too often forced to make difficult choices for the first time in their lives in order to maintain academic aspirations.
I bring up this topic because it is something that comes up often during my conversations with Nobles parents. The academic workload has increased, the expectations of students after school have grown, and yet kids want to continue pursuing everything they had been doing in the past. The harsh reality is that at some point many of these extremely accomplished kids are forced, for the first time in their young lives to prioritize. If not, we see exhausted kids struggling with a sense of inadequacy.
So how do we, as teachers and parents, impress upon our students/kids how to make choices? In the middle school, we are all about skill development and therefore, the skill of how to make choices should be added to the top of the list. We want our kids busy, we want them taking risks by trying new things, and we want them to take advantage of all that is offered at Nobles. But at what cost?
Personally, I am more efficient when I keep myself busy. However, I also know that I am not efficient when I reach a point of extreme stress. It’s a lesson that has taken me nearly 20 years to master. I propose this skill needs to become a component of the many lessons we look to impress upon our kids starting now.
Are our kids keeping busy and working efficiently, but also feeling in control of their situation and getting enough sleep at night to help development? If they are at the point of stress and exhaustion, then there needs to be a conversation about making choices. This involves defining the problem, discussing possible options with pros and cons, and then coming up with the best solution. It’s a conversation that both parents and teachers need to be willing to have and that both parties are willing to relinquish control of in order to allow our kids to develop this essential skill.
And lastly, a difficult challenge in the middle school is to guide the students to make choices exclusive of their peers. Kids eventually learn how to manage their time, but too often their peers play a role in this process rather than their own personal interests. Trying to be proactive in making choices rather than reactive should help kids make decisions outside the lens of how they will be perceived among their peers.
Making choices as a young teen can be painful, but turning this into a learning experience and skill development process will be key in their growth--a skill I am continuously working to master every day.