Middle school is such a trying time for everyone. Parents are at their wits end, teachers don’t know what to do to engage those changing bodies, and children suffer most: The acne, the hormones, the mood swings.
Well, little did I know what I was in for those first few months of teaching. I truly thought that I ‘ knew it all’ , that I could handle anything that came my way! But as you may or may not remember, I was replacing a very disgruntled teacher. It was my job to bring back structure (something that middle schoolers need and hate all at the same time).
So, it began. I had my seating charts, my lesson plans, my suits (from those banking days), and I was ready. I explained to the classes that I meant business. I was to teach and they were to learn! One of those first days, a student came into my class late. Back in those days, we had pink tardy slips for unexcused and white tardy slips for excused. I was right in the middle of a very important and engaging lesson, mind you, when he entered with his white slip. I took it from him and read the reason for tardiness: ” priming tobacco”. Wait a minute, I thought! TOBACCO?? That little devil! Why was he given a WHITE slip?? So, as anyone would do, I asked him! ” Peter, why are you given a white slip for priming tobacco? Don’t you know that it’s bad for you?” The entire class broke into laughter and I couldn’t understand why!
” Mrs. Young, do you actually know what priming tobacco is?” he asked genuinely? I wasn’t keen on a middle schooler taking the upper hand. I looked at the class and a sheepish grin spread onto each face. Maybe I didn’t know after all. ” Why don’t you tell me, Peter?”, I responded. And tell me he did.
Peter educated me that day on something about which I knew nothing: tobacco farming. We were after all in rural North Carolina. I listened intently as he explained what he and his family did every fall. I learned a lot. I apologized to Peter and told the class, ” Well, now you know that sometimes, you embrace the teachable moment.” I have stuck by that ever since.
The year went on and I grew as a teacher. I began to realize that not only was I teaching them but they were teaching me as well. With that attitude, I began to fall in love with teaching. I made so many close friendships those first few years and to this day, treasure the photographs and notes of students from 32 years ago, often searching for them on Facebook and wondering where they are today.