Something I’ve long suspected and often confirmed about the blogosphere is that we really are an island of misfits.
Sure, there are the popular girls and the nerdy folks and the super duper smart people and the edgy, artsy writers. But we all live on the fringe just a bit. And we all seem to have found each other through this incredible web that connects us all. Thank God for that. I’m only sorry it wasn’t around sooner.
I can’t say I hated high school, because I didn’t. It was my reality. My life. I didn’t really know, nor could I fathom, life beyond the present. I just hoped it would get better.
My sister was 3 years older and had gone off to college by the time I was really into high school. I remember hanging out with her in her dorm room wishing I could live there. Her ultra-cool friends never treated me like I was the little sister. They gave me words of encouragement and told me that everything would change when I went to college. I would find people that were just like me. I hoped they were right.
I always felt like an outcast. Acquaintance to everyone but friend to no one. I mean, I had friends. I just didn’t ever feel like I really fit in. And I didn’t understand why.
It wasn’t until I got older that I started to realize why. When we go to school as children or adolescents, we’re typically brought together primarily by geography, where we live, not by mutual interests or common ground, which is how we spend most of the rest of our lives. It’s diversity in its purest sense.
Schools in my area always talk about bussing kids to ensure diversity is met. The right race, the right socioeconomic status. If anything, they should do more to make kids feel at ease, make them feel safe. It’s hard growing up. It’s hard fitting in. And I’m sure most of you remember adolescence as one of the most formative times of your life. You may not realize it but I bet a lot of your self-esteem today comes from how you felt in middle school and high school. My insecurities from that time in my life still haunt me, even as a middle-aged woman.
It’s not uncommon. In fact, I learned more about that when I studied Adolescent Psychology in graduate school on my way to becoming a teacher. I majored in Biology and decided to go back to school to become a secondary science teacher. More specifically, a middle school teacher. I was warned. I was cautioned. But I knew from studying, from personal experience, and from watching my own middle school-aged brother, who is 10 years younger than me, that these are some of the most important years of schooling. Not for scientific learning. But for personal development. I chose it because I wanted to help.
What I ended up with was a difficult class full of students from every walk of life, every level of intellectual capacity, every socioeconomic status, and many areas of special needs.
I was totally unprepared.
Watching adolescence through my young adult eyes was painful. I could feel the discomfort. I could feel the derisiveness. I could feel my own memories of awkward adolescence.
And I remember being scared. I was scared of some of the kids in my class. These were 7th graders. Some were 15 years old. Some had been previously expelled. Some were full of the pre-teen hormones that start to change our bodies at that age while others looked like little runts in comparison. Yes, the runts of the class. What mattered more than size, though, was that they looked different.
I saw the kids getting picked on. They were easy targets. They said things and did things to make them easy prey and I hated that there wasn’t much I could do about it.
“Kids will be kids.”
“Kids can be mean.”
These were the words I would hear when I voiced my concerns to more senior teachers and even some of the administration. I didn’t agree.
I yelled. I lectured. I tried to use words that would make my kids understand that their words, their actions were unkind and hurtful. I wanted to be the champion of the underdog and the defender of the meek.
But the reality is I was a 23 year old girl, pretending to be a grown-up that could understand why kids acted the way they did. And I really didn’t.
I left after the school year and never, ever wanted to teach again. There was only so much I could do to keep my kids safe and I knew it wasn’t enough. I still think about that year often. I wonder what became of some of those kids as they made their way to 8th grade and then on to high school. I only hope that they made it out with some shred of self-esteem.
There is a movie called “Bully.” It’s a powerful message and one that I can’t ignore and I won’t ignore. I can’t watch this clip without having tears in my eyes thinking that my beautiful, brilliant, quirky little boy could be one of them.
If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Talk to your kids. Know who they are and help them. And learn more about The Bully Project.