I only write on evenings and weekends. My real job (the one that pays the bills) is teaching middle school choir and theatre. I know, I know. “Theatre director” is not what most people think of when they hear “real job.”
But in my case it’s true. I work at a wonderful, private, K-8 school. Last week was our big show--Annie. Truthfully, I’ve never really liked the play (at least after my crush on the girl from the 198whatever movie passed). But I decided to do it for several reasons, none of which I will bore you with.
The performance was last weekend, and notwithstanding the weakness of the script, it was quite good (I'm being objective, here). Beyond that, I had one of the most enjoyable experiences of my 23 year career. That was largely because of the amazing kids. We’re a K-8 school, so the 8th graders assume the status of seniors. They are the functional leaders of the school and I have learned that there is not much I can do to counter the tone that they set in the play.
Happily, this year’s crew of 8th graders was a large group of incredibly sweet kids. There’s really not another term for it. They were just very sweet kids. Another teacher compared them to a whole class of Golden retriever pups—big, excited, affectionate, enthusiastic, energetic, and a bit sloppy. They have made my year wonderful and I very fond of them. That's them above (and yes, I secured their parents' permission to post this photo).
The fact is, I love them dearly. I think about them, worry about them, pray for them, and hope the best for them. I have encouraged, disciplined, motivated, pushed, and prodded them now since they entered middle school three years ago. They have occupied a substantial amount of my time for those three years and they now occupy a proportionate place in my heart. I can’t express the depth of my affection for these kids.
I realize as I write this that I might sound silly or sentimental. But it’s true. I love these kids. But not because they’re perfect.
To the contrary.
This photo is far more reflective of reality. They goof off frequently and have a hard time focusing more often than not. They often talk instead of listening, and burst out in laughter at inappropriate times. They are immature in many ways. They smell bad sometimes. They forget things I’ve told them a hundred times. They misplace critical props, lose costume pieces, and occasionally forget important cues. Their actions have often made my life more complicated and sometimes very frustrating.
In other words—they are 13 and 14 and they act like it. They may look like small adults, but while they might look like adults physically, they are as far away from emotional maturity as Spring Break is from Christmas vacation (in middle school time, that is dog years).
So why do I love them so much? Well, I think I love them because they are 13 and 14.
I love their quirks and foibles. I love watching them struggling to master all the crazy things they have to deal with--socially, emotionally, academically, theatrically--in their very topsy-turvy adolescent worlds. When they do get something right, it's incredibly exciting. When they don't, I'm rooting for them anyway.
Their quirks usually make me laugh--a warm, sympathetic, I-remember-what-it's like-laugh. When I do get irritated, their sincere contrition, high-fives or hugs, and sad puppy-dog faces melt my heart. Ultimately, I expect them to be quirky 13 year olds. Anything else is just icing on the cake.
My affection for them is also supported by the fact that they get the big things right. They are kind to each other and are respectful of me. They follow the big rules I’ve established (memorizing their lines, coming to rehearsal, etc.).
I’ve been thinking about this. Are 8th graders to adults as mortals are to our Father in Heaven?
Perhaps we look a little bit like Him, but we, too, are light years away from his level of progression and maturity. Does He love us in spite—possibly even because of—our quirks and foibles? Does He smile the same way I do when one of them does something that seems incredibly stupid to an adult, but seems perfectly appropriate to them?
Do my sincere apologies after thoughtless, but not malicious, choices melt His heart and warm His soul? Does He, at some level love me because--not in spite of--my flawed humanity? If I basically get the big stuff right does that enable His abiding love for me to work together with my basically good intentions?
I don’t know for sure, but deep down I have a feeling. And it gives me a lot of hope.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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