There are very few times quite as meaningful and even sacred to me as the beginning of a new school year. Something about the possibility of new starts, potential achievement, and the chance for a human soul to learn and grow is incredibly profound to me.
I'm going to be an advisor this year to a small group of about 10 kids (last year I didn't have this assignment) and I'm tasked with being the school's point man for the well-being of these kids. I've spent a lot of time thinking about what I can do to facilitate a good year for them, what I can do to help them reach their fullest potential. As I've thought about this, I realized that there are things I want for them to experience this year--and these are the same things I want for all my students, as well as my children, to experience.
So, for what it's worth, here's what I hope every middle school student experiences this year.
1. I hope you struggle at something this year. I hope something is hard for you. In fact, I hope you fail at something! Not permanently, and not at everything--just at one thing. I hope there's a test you bomb, a part in the play you don't get, a spot on the team you don't make. I hope a project doesn't come together. I hope you have to get down and wrestle with struggle and failure--because I know it will make you stronger. I know it will turn you into a better, deeper person. It will prepare you well for life to struggle, and even fail--and then fight past it. I'm not going to manufacture failure, not going to set you up, but I really hope you have to face it.
2. I hope your parents and teachers will let you fail. In my mind, one of the greatest flaws of our current modes of parenting and educating is that we bend over backwards to protect kids from the consequences of their decisions and actions. We have shielded and padded them to such an extent that many of them don't experience real struggle until they are in college--or even beyond. I don't think that is healthy for them. Life is hard. Life is full of failures and disappointments. Success comes from overcoming, not avoiding them. Students who learn that now will be poised to be much stronger later on.
3. I hope someone holds you accountable. I hope that you are called to account for something you say and do. I hope you have parents and teachers who love you enough to not accept excuses. I hope you have parents and teachers who love you enough to insist that you are honest with not only others, but with yourself. Learning to be responsible and to live your life as an actor and not a reactor is one of this life's great joys.
4. I hope you have fun. I hope you do fun things with your friends and family. I hope you make some new friends and deepen your bonds with old friends.
5. I hope you learn to do good work. So much of life is work. If you can learn to do work well, to take pride in it, regardless of whether you like it, your life will be richer and more rewarding. Even things that seem like drudgery can be rewarding when approached with the right attitude.
6. I hope you laugh a lot.
7. I hope you cry. I hope you have moments where your heart feels like it's being torn into pieces. I hope this teaches you empathy and compassion for other people. I hope it helps you be careful about things you say and do to others.
8. I hope you have something really wonderful happen to you. A dream that is fulfilled this year. Better if this is something you make, or at least help, happen by virtue of effort and work.
9. I hope you live up to your potential--and then push beyond it just a little bit. Whatever your gifts are--athletic, academic, artistic--I hope you develop them. I hope your coach/teacher/director pushes you a bit in your gifts.
10. I hope you make someone happy. I hope you learn to be consistently kind--even to those you may not like or be friends with.
11. I hope you stand up for someone who's being bullied or who is on the margins of your social group.
12. I hope you can realize that everyone around you is at least as insecure as you. Possibly more so. I hope you don't do anything to make these insecurities worse. That kind of thing can haunt you for a lifetime.
13. I hope you realize that when everything else is gone, your family will still be there. They are your closest allies, your greatest friends, and your most constant source of support.
14. I hope you realize most teachers became teachers because they want to help kids learn and grow. I hope you realize that, while they are human and fallible, there are probably reasons for the way they run their classes and programs.
15. I hope your teachers can be as influential in positive ways as mine were.
16. I hope your parents tell you "No." Often.
17. I hope you can have a fun interaction with a boy or girl you really like--an exciting moment at a school dance. Something age-appropriate that makes your heart flutter. Not a texting session--an honest to goodness interaction. I also hope you don't rush into anything. I hope you realize that relationships in middle school are fundamentally unstable. Have fun, get to know people. Don't rush to pair off and "date."
18. I hope you do something real, something that is not virtual this year.
19. I hope you do something athletic, something artistic, and something academic. If you can accomplish something in each of these areas (whether or not you are the best is irrelevant), you will give yourself a great gift.
20. I hope you learn to like, or at least appreciate, a new subject this year.
21. I hope you read at least one really amazing book that you never forget (hopefully, many. But at least one.
22. I hope you end this year more confident, more knowledgeable, more compassionate, more self-controlled, more self-aware, and more poised to live a happy, productive, life.
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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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