Today we were working in pairs (Que milagro – pairs in Mr. C’s class!) on one sentence summaries for the first seven chapters of The Midwife’s Apprentice. Sometimes I have to remind them that this is English, and we do have to put down our clickers and write now and then. They actually liked this one, and it was a great way to review a book we’re reading entirely in class, and don’t always get to every day. It forced them to go back and reread and review the book together, and to even use the table of contents (gasp – good practice for research in the spring). I did keep having to say,

“Look in the book.”

Anyway, at one point a pair of girls raised their hands and said,

“We need help.”

“Maybe you should make an appointment with your counselor.”

The two girls were the ones who laughed the hardest.

I know –and to make sure, my wife reminds me all the time– that some (many?) of the things I say to my students might be interpreted as being “mean.” She has said,

“You’re one of those teachers I would have been scared to death of when I was in junior high.”

Thanks a lot. But something that I have noticed in the last several years of teaching seventh graders is that it seems like the “meaner” I am, the more the kids like it.

To be sure, I keep putting that word in scare quotes for a reason. I am not truly mean. I don’t delight in torturing poor, frightened students. I like to pretend I do. I don’t really like humiliating them; I remember 7th grade like it was yesterday, so I would never do that. But I do say,

“I get paid extra when I’m mean.”

So what I mean by saying I’m mean is that it’s a shtick. I do bare my teeth now and then, so to speak, to remind them that I’m the Alpha of this pack, but most of the time the “meanness” is all part of the act. Remember, though, that we are all walking a fine line with the fragile junior high psyche. You have to build their trust before you can start acting too much like House:

(7th grade web page guestbook entry from a former student) “i still watch house and he reminds me of you haha in a good way.” (sic)

I have bus loading duty this week. Our seventh and eighth graders are on different schedules (they can’t fit ’em all in the cafeteria at break and lunch), so there are many of my former students now in eighth grade whom I haven’t seen in a while, even though they’re still on the same campus. At bus duty today, I got to chat with a bunch of last year’s bunch whom I hadn’t seen in awhile.

“Guess what? I’m getting an A in English this year!”

“I kept saying you were going to be the smartest person ever to flunk my class.”

“I know. I like Mrs. T, but I miss your class. I like how you kicked my desk when I was talking, and how that time we were all going crazy after I don’t know what happened, you told us to just shut up and listen. I miss that.”

They laugh as I shade my face in mock embarrassment. At this point another one from last year joins in. I have to deploy the Bubble to avoid the hug.

“Eighth grade is sooo boring. Can I be in seventh grade again?”

She was the one last year who couldn’t cope when my student teacher took over. She got all upset when I broke the news, and she just flung up her arms and said,

“But, but, she won’t know how to insult us like you do! I LOVE that. Can you at least teach her to be mean? I like how you’re all mean. Please?”