Is there anyone more eager for life than a twelve-year-old boy? Who has a greater hunger to know about life and death and everything in between? He has so many questions about how things work and how people think and when his puberty will arrive and if he will ever, ever grow. He has restless hands that need to touch and punch and break and throw things. He laughs easily, squirms endlessly and just needs something to do every minute. He can be calmed with a pair of earbuds and music, although his concentration is not likely to last for too long even then. He will move his desk a little, and accidentally touch gum that is stuck under it (which he, himself, probably put there at some time) and have to get up and run to the hand sanitizer, exaggeratedly groaning, “I have to clean my hands! I touched gum!!” Then he will sharpen his already sharp pencil, even when no writing is going on. On the way back he will stop at the height chart written on masking tape on the classroom door and measure himself to see if he’s grown since he checked yesterday.
In a cruel twist of educational brilliance, this boy is asked to sit for two hours in an English class and learn about prepositions and pronouns and the author’s purpose for writing an essay. He is expected to stay on task, keep his work organized and hand it all in completed and on time. He spends only an hour in his other classes, but because his school is in Program Improvement and neither he nor most of the other twelve and thirteen year-olds there have scored Proficient on the compulsory state tests, he is deemed to need two hours in English class. The one that is the most abstract, least hands-on of all, the one least likely to grab his interest.
Multiply him by twenty four, throw in a few girls for a little balance, and you have the dilemma of a middle school English teacher. Since it is late February, and the behavior of all these boys has stayed pretty consistent since the beginning of the school year, I think it’s time for a rethinking of my classroom strategy. I keep thinking they will become Juniors in high school by January, and guess what? They won’t. So, how can I make their long English class seem pertinent to them? How can it be engaging enough to calm the incessant movement? Should the stories be about aliens and gross things, video game characters and famous soccer or basketball players? Should I pump music and find standing up and moving games to teach these concepts? Gambling games for learning the meanings of prefixes and suffixes? I’m looking for a change and when I find it I’ll embroider and expand it and make it work for us. When I find it.