I tell my high school kids that I stopped teaching middle school because I was tired of students falling out of their desks for no apparent reason. No shoves or outside forces were involved. I could look up from taking roll and a typical 7th grade boy would suddenly be seized by an unexplainable spasm and be half on the floor, half in his seat as he struggled to hold on to his pencil.
I suppose between the sudden hormonal changes and the powerful mood swings these 11-13-year-olds lost control of their own bodies and their minds as well.
While teaching for 15 years in Texas middle schools, every day was like spending time in a Lake Charles, Louisiana casino. Full of annoying sounds and ever-changing emotions! Each class was a crap shoot or a sudden spin of a roulette wheel. You never knew what you were gonna get, and at the end of the day you either felt like a lucky winner or a huge loser.
Maybe managing a middle school felt more like being a steel ball in a pinball machine. As the school bell rang, I’d spin out onto the play field where I’d bump from one desk to another while a variety of issues and voices would light up the board. From the front of the class to the middle row and then to the back left corner, the class’s demands and emotions would pop and sling me from one ding to the next ping. Questions like flippers would hurl me around the room as personalities clashed and kids played slap/ tickle. At the end of the period, I’d be swept down the machine’s drain, only to have the spring-loaded rod pull back and send me spinning onto the next class’s playing field of slingshots and ramps and bumpers and kickers.
So, so many different kids were part of the pinball machine; however one student I’ll always remember was Victoria. What a bold, loud, and commanding presence she was! Whether trying to get a friend’s attention by throwing a pencil at her head or trying to finish writing a personal narrative by demanding, “Miss! Make those ‘fruit bowls’ behind me shut up!” everyone was forever aware of Victoria.
One afternoon another student, Sonya, particularly pissed-off Victoria, and the two girls started yelling at each other from across the room of my rickety portable building. My feeble efforts to calm the girls down completely failed when Sonya lunged at Victoria after Sonya’s friend Amos urged her to “Get the bitch!” The noise quickly drew my next door teacher neighbor ( and former Army sergeant) Mr. Samuels into my room. Mr. Samuels grabbed Sonya while I ushered Victoria to the back corner of the room. As Sonya proudly displayed a tangled yard of braided hair in the air the same way Beowulf victoriously held up Grendel’s bloody arm, Victoria grabbed the last word and exclaimed, “Give me my weave back, Bitch! I paid good money for that hair!”
Sad to say, I remember another fight that broke out one day when Mr. Samuels had taken his class on a field trip.
This time two boys had decided to take their mutual dislike of one another to the “who’s the alpha dog here?” level. In a typical 7th grade class two simple words may be all it takes to set off a “throw down.” On this day during Sustained Silent Reading time, Randy had motioned to Sarah to look over at Josh (the football team’s star tackle) who was moving his lips as he read his Goosebumps novel. Sarah noticed what Randy wanted her to see, and the mean-spirited boy loudly whispered, “Jumbo Dumbo!” loud enough for several kids AND Josh to hear. In an instant, Josh was out of his seat and had overturned Randy’s desk. The class erupted into a welcomed frenzy that ended their SRR. Soon others were moving desks around to create a fighting ring, as my loud demands to “Come on! Cut it out!” were drowned out by,”FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!”
Now slimy Randy was no fighter , so he actually picked up his desk and held it in front of himself like a shield. Josh just smiled and swatted the desk out of Randy’s shaking hands.
As much as I wished Randy would get the comeuppance he deserved (He was a habitual liar, cheater, slacker, instigator, and all-around jerk), I knew his blood would ultimately be on my hands, so I frantically used the class landline to call for help.
Even though Randy started to try some ridiculous Tai Kwon Do moves, Josh had a smirk on his lips and hate in his eyes as he moved in for the pummeling.
Then out of nowhere Victoria jumped off the ground and onto Josh’s back! (Did I mention she was a big-boned girl?) She actually had Josh in a headlock. “Ms. G, don’t worry! I got him!” she exclaimed. “I got em!” I think the unexpectedness of my rescuer’s actions caught most of the room by surprise. Two of Josh’s teammates lost their mob mentality and helped Victoria subdue Josh. I quickly got Sarah to take Randy outside on the portable’s porch, and within minutes the school’s SRO arrived to help contain the situation.
Now, Victoria may not have been an A-student or an eager writer or a lover of literature, but that day she proved a strong asset in my chaotic pinball class. The moment of that chokehold told me Victoria was ultimately on my side and she became one of my most trusted and respected middle school allies in education !