You might be tempted to think that this post will be about surviving one’s middle age, but at the moment, life in the middle is all about the woes of middle school. This year, I have grown to be quite attached to my 7th graders — they are hard workers, open to growth, funny, compassionate, and smart.
Once in a while, though, the realities of middle school life hit you full in the face. In fact, today this was no metaphor. One of my students slapped another in the face, just as class was ending, as we were wrapping up the intensive group work that had been going on for a week, in preparation for tomorrow’s Civil War group presentations. CX slapped MP, and he then ran from my room — with five minutes before dismissal. I didn’t witness the slap because I was cajoling another group that was struggling mightily to complete the last of the project before the deadline. When I returned to the center of class, MP was in tears, and my inquiries led me to realize that CX was no where to be seen. I ended class as best as I could, found the dean, and tried to track down the missing kid. He appeared moments later, after another classmate told him I wanted to see him. His reason for slapping MP (a girl) was that she called him a “girl.”
A few responses come to mind. First, using the word “girl” as an insult is problematic, but it is not clear to me whether it was meant as an insult or not. The kids are helping each other in presentations, and some involve cross gendered role-playing (many girls are playing Abraham Lincoln, for example, while some boys are playing Harriet Beecher Stowe). Second, perhaps when boys are called girls, it raises questions of gender identity, or of sexuality, that are just beginning to emerge.
However, all of that said, slapping someone is never a response that can be tolerated. It was enlightening to listen to my male colleagues talk about how a boy slapping a girl is particularly egregious. I suppose that such actions raise the specter of violence against women in all of its guises. Here is the moment, though, when difficult as it is, I must educate my students about why violence against women is particularly harmful.
The boy has been suspended for the day, and I’ll have to find a way to deal with his return, to welcome him back, to give him another chance, while also holding him accountable for his actions. It is tough to be in this place, in the middle of things, struggling with complex interactions, but that is, after all, what teaching is all about.