“Giffordleaks” from the Middle School by John Gifford, Head of the Middle School
It seems that perhaps the most interesting information is the information that we are not supposed to know about. The collection of “inside information” keeps numerous people employed, from gossip columnists and paparazzi, to serious journalists and Wikileak founder Julian Assange.*
While I admit that I am not really going to share the information that is the most sensitive (it most often revolves around the complicated lives of kids) I have attempted to come up with a number of items that might be interesting but that I wouldn’t typically think to write about. The goal is that I reveal some of the inner workings of the Nobles Middle School, what we care about and what we worry about.
• Moving Jen Hamilton into the Middle School was an excellent strategic decision. Jen is an amazing counselor and having her here in the Middle School for a full two days a week has been tremendous. It took a financial commitment from the school to build a office upstairs in the Forum that allows for a private conversation. The office looks like it has been there forever and Jen gets student traffic that she’d have never gotten were her office still upstairs in Shattuck. While Jen was initially worried that she wasn’t making connections with kids quickly enough, I assured her that “if we build it, they will come” and have they ever. This is a ringing endorsement of this talented professional.
• I feel that students often write in admission applications that they are passionate about music or the visual arts or trying a new sport and yet I’m not sure that we see it come to fruition during their Middle School experience. Some of it may be because we ask a lot of them and I feel that is understandable and appropriate. If I’m right, however, is something else going on as well? Do they feel the need to say such things in the application – even if they are not as passionate about the ideas as they imply? If the interests represent risks in some way, is there something about this culture that makes it hard for students to take these risks?
• We have many more kids taking Class V Latin this year, and I think it's great. Two years ago, we had the feeling that seventh-grade students were calling the shots on course sign-ups more than was appropriate. Kids were expressing concern about their schedule and were worried that they’d be signing up for too heavy an academic load. I made a push last year with parents, explaining to them that while there are a few students who might best be served by not taking two languages in Class V, the majority could and should take Latin. I reminded parents that Nobles has long believed in the benefits of a student learning Latin. Sign-ups increased this year and I have heard little to no concerns about the work load. I hope that trend continues.
• I’d wager that there are about eight students in the Middle School who would clean up a mess without being asked to do so (and it would have to be a small mess). They’d all pick up a mess if specifically asked by a faculty member but at least five would groan while doing it.
• Students are still upset that we replaced the 700-calorie muffins with healthy alternatives in the snack bar. Oh, well.
• I remain concerned about the way that kids treat each other. I’m starting to believe that the origin of 90% of all undesirable behavior is insecurity. There is arguably no more insecure time period in a child’s life than the Middle School years. Students’ worlds are being turned upside down. They are maturing and developing at disparate rates. These various rates of development lead to different looks, interests, priorities and moods. The buddy that you have had since third grade no longer wants to build models, he wants to date them.
Insecure individuals tear down others. More to the point, students who are trying on, for the first time, a new persona or market testing a new interest are deeply insecure about their new interest. They feel, for example, that they have turned into one of the “popular girls” but are they really? Is it good to all of a sudden be very interested in boys? One way to ensure that you get the message across that it is appropriate to have these new interests is to denigrate those who are stuck in the sixth grade with their sixth grade interests.
I must continue to believe that our relational model is the truest path to confidence in young people. Continuing to nurture healthy relationships with adults who will both challenge and support young people is perhaps not a time-efficient model to develop confidence but it is the best method.
In the meantime, we must call kids on everything! Sometimes our relational model leads this faculty, who care deeply about these students, to be too soft on them.
• I don’t know when it happened, but students often say “thank you” at the end of class. (True, in my class, I wonder if they are channeling one of the fraternity pledges from the 1978 film Animal House, who, after being spanked with a wooden paddle say “Thank you, sir, may I have another?”) Whatever the reason, I find it generous and thoughtful. Twenty years ago when I started as a teacher, students didn’t do that. What does it mean?
• Kids don’t complain about the “no backpack rule” anymore. Some say that they like it. This reminds me that kids simply resist change. Once we got through a cycle and the rule was no longer change but simply the way it was, they were fine. What else should we change?
• I look forward to a process of looking again at the Middle School schedule. While it may be best to not change, we’ll start a study of the issue in January. The new Castle construction project is vital to any change as it will allow for some more flexibility. I particularly look forward to having students being able to eat a bit later in the day.
I’m sure that I could generate many other tidbits of information. In fact, it is probably obvious that this mix of big-picture items and minutiaeonly scratches the surface. Perhaps if you enjoy these “Giffordleaks”, I’ll do it again.
*A quick aside about the recent leaked cable communications via Julian Assange’s Wikileaks. As a citizen I am concerned that we are having sensitive government discussions and strategies aired broadly. As an educator I was chagrined, but not surprised, to see that intelligent adults would pass judgments on others that might warrant a SCRAP in Nobles the Middle School. Do we really need to know that Moammar Gadhafi travels with a "voluptuous blonde" Ukrainian nurse? We can be outraged by the way that young people occasionally treat each other, but we should also understand that we, and I include myself, have succumbed to inappropriate comments as well. It doesn’t excuse the behavior but it reaffirms the challenge of developing sensitive and appropriate young adults. It emboldens my assertion that we need to work on it consistently and in all facets of our lives to make it “stick”.