Writing the title of this post, I thought, “people are going to think this is a post about working in a school with privileged kids,” and so I was going to change it, but then I decided to leave it. I could write that post, and I’m sure I’d have things to say, but tonight, what I want to write about is the privilege I feel in working with kids.
Maybe it’s partly the privilege of working with people, period. Unless you work in isolation, having any full-time job means interacting with people, every one of them (including yourself!) flawed. Inevitably, you develop connections with those people–some strong, some less strong; some functional, some less functional; some amusing, some frustrating. Typically all of those things with the same people! You make each other laugh; you get on each other’s nerves; you push each other to grow. You can’t help but connect, and it’s often pretty wonderful.
With kids, it’s a bit different. It’s the same–you definitely connect–but it’s also different. With middle schoolers in particular (for me, at least), part of the beauty of the work is getting to witness and be a part of a piece of life where nobody has it figured out, where the expectation is that everyone is going to be fumbling along and having moments of greatness, moments of confusion, moments of joy, moments of sorrow. There are days where I see these kids wrestling with this huge task of growing up, and I just am overwhelmed with admiration for them. They break my heart, and they fill my heart, sometimes simultaneously. They believe fiercely in social justice, and they hurt each other. They want to believe the world is kind, and they want to fix the broken parts, but their fears and desire to fit in can work against that. They are discovering how complicated this whole living thing is, and realizing that the adults don’t have it figured out either. How scary is that?
It’s a tumultuous time. I was at a workshop last week where the presenter said that most people say that their hardest year was when they were 13, but when asked why, they can’t remember. They have blocked it out! But as hard as middle school is, it’s also pretty magical. I see kids deeply engaged with their questions about how the world works. If you ever want to have hope for the future, talk to a group of 12-year-olds about social injustice–they are fired up about it, and they have limitless ideas for fixing this planet and the people on it. Watch a kid wrestle with their identity and come out the other side, confident in who they are and hopeful about their future. See how fiercely kids will defend their friends, and how proud they are when you catch them quietly doing the right thing.
They are vulnerable and strong; afraid and confident. They are beautiful. It is a privilege to spend my days surrounded by their chaos and goofiness and potential. Maybe if all of us embraced the middle schooler inside of us–remembered that it’s okay to be confused and conflicted and curious and idealistic, that it’s okay to believe in possibility and okay to feel defeated by what seems impossible, that we don’t have to have it all figured out but can instead just live in whatever moment we are in–we’d all be better off. If you forgot to pack your gym shoes or bring home your science binder (or the adult equivalent), or you weren’t as kind to someone you love as you would like to be, or you weren’t as patient as you could have been, it’s okay. You get to try again tomorrow, and the next day, and nobody expected you to be perfect anyway. Just keep trying.