From the Eagle's Desk...
Introduction by 8th Grade religion teacher, Annemarie Fisher:
I just gave an assessment on the 2 Feet of Love in Action. It’s the idea that the way to solve social issues in the world is two pronged: Social Justice eliminates the root causes of a problem, while Charitable Works alleviates the pain of a person in their immediate need. On the assessment today, I asked: “Which response do you find yourself called to more strongly? What makes you think this? How do you see yourself helping the world in the future?" I thought these were such beautiful snapshots of the things that motivate our students and the goodness of their hearts.
I find myself more strongly called to social justice because whenever I see other teens my age taking stand for what they believe in, I feel inspired to do the same. I play sports, someday I hope to go pro, and by doing so, I believe my voice will have a stronger impact on regulators in society, government officials, and the public. (Camille)
I think that I am called to do parts of both charitable works and social justice. For example, I am very good at donating goods or essential items to people, but I am also good with speaking out about the things I believe in. Therefore, I am able to use social justice by telling people how what they are doing impacts others or using charitable works by giving back to the people and different neighborhoods. (Kai)
I find myself called to social justice more strongly. What makes me think this is that social justice makes me feel like I can express myself more freely on a significant topic going on that’s affecting countless lives in our world because I want to use my perspective and expression in order to make the future brighter for the next generations. I see myself making an impact on the world by delivering speeches to many people, setting up shelters for those who need them, spreading awareness to those uneducated about these issues, writing poems and sharing them with the world, and making others have a change of heart and see the world in a new light. (Laura)
I feel called to both feet. With social justice, I want to prevent people from ever being in this bad of a situation again. Then with charitable works, I have to help those in need who are already in pain. I think this because I want good for everyone. I see myself aiding anyone in need but also reforming laws so that people never have to be in need of aid. (Gabby)
I find myself more called to social justice because I feel I am better at writing and convincing than one on one helping. I can see myself writing to office holders and writing for solutions for the future later on in life. (Jackie)
I feel more called to charitable works because my personality is more quick, simple. Charitable works is something I see myself doing because it is almost “behind the scene” and helps relieve problems sooner since social justice takes time and effort to be able to fight for the plan. (Tiffany)
I feel more called to social justice because I want to secure a future and like to get to the roots of problems. I see myself helping to end homelessness one day. (Cece)
I find myself more called to social justice because I find the “root” of something to solve a problem for everyone. I don’t really see myself necessarily helping one single person but that doesn’t mean I don’t practice charitable works. I see myself helping the world in the future by taking what problems exist such as global warming, and ending the causes so that we can save our planet. (Brennan)
I feel like I am called to charitable works because I am one of those people who tries to help those I see struggling. I also feel that multiple charitable works can lead to the actions of social justice. (Maya)
I feel I am more strongly called to social justice. I have a very strong and stubborn mindset. If I feel strongly about something, I will try to change it. I care a lot for the future. I have nieces and nephews that I want to grow up without global warming, oppression, or stereotypes. I want to study law when I’m older. Not just for myself, so I can get a grasp on understanding how I can make a change. (Nina)
I think that at the present moment, I am called to charitable works more because for me a)it’s easier and b) I have the ability to and am more capable to do so than social justice. I can help individuals in need, but I don’t have the power or what it takes to abolish the issue. I believe that right now I can do charitable works, mainly, but I know that some day in the future I am able to solve problems and issues in the world with my own abilities. I want to be such a big figure that I can influence world decisions or maybe just help to solve it. (Daniel)
I find myself called to charitable works. I think this because I find it easy to make personal connections with others. This would help me understand the needs of someone who is struggling. I see myself setting up my own soup kitchen to feed the hungry in a place where it is truly needed. I feel called to this specific assistance because even at my age, I love to go and volunteer at the Atlanta Soup Kitchen and help all the hungry there. (Micah)
I think I am called more strongly to charitable works because I believe you understand the person more when you go and actually talk to the person. You are more empathetic if you physically have a conversation with them. (Justice)
I think I am called to charitable works. I am outspoken but I want to work and help closer those who need it. I want to see the smile on someone’s face when I give them the meal they have been waiting for. I think I am changing the world by helping one person at a time. (Kennedy)
I see myself called to social justice. I think this because I do not feel comfortable seeing what’s going on in the world and just giving food or money. I think that if there’s a problem, there is a solution, and humans are called to stop the problem. I definitely think I could build a future off of this and maybe stop some important issues. (Ryan)
I think I’m called to charitable works because I’m very social. I talk a lot with people, am very general and kind. (Margaret)
I think I’m called to charitable works because while other legislators and activists are working on social justice, I could focus on the people now and helping them survive. I see myself running a non-profit organization that collects donations and gives them to homeless people on the streets. (Soncera)
I find myself called to do social justice more strongly. I like talking about ideas and how to fix problems over a period of time. I like discussing problems and solutions. I see myself writing letters to Congress and talking about problems. (Hayden)
I feel strongly towards social justice. I would be better about speaking passionately or creating art to spread awareness. I could use song writing to put problems into a song and then spread awareness by performing or go out and advocate and talk to those in power. (Abby)
I find myself more called to charitable works. I think that this is so because I like to do hands on actions, like making scarves for the homeless. I see myself helping the world in the future by starting a big suicide prevention organization where people can talk to a counselor about their feelings and sometimes stay there. (Sydney)
I see myself called more to social justice. My ideology of things that are happening now is “it shouldn’t have ever happened.” My work to stop the root causes fits that. I see myself helping the world in all things race related. (Carson)
To anyone who has, will have, or has had a middle school child:
I’ve recently decided that my son, Nathaniel, is at the perfect age. He’s almost 18 months old, and I just don’t think anyone sweeter exists in the world. This is the age where I feel he actually gets how much I love him. There are no complicated fights, no doubts about my love for him, just pure love and the feeling is certainly mutual. I have thoughts about what it will be like when he’s an adolescent, fighting with me over little things, questioning everything, and it makes me draw him close for one more unquestioned hug.
In other words, the idea of my perfect little baby as a middle schooler terrifies me. A feeling I never thought I’d have! I teach middle school, not because someone is making me do it, not because it’s the only job I could get, not because I have no other abilities. I teach middle school because I love middle schoolers. That’s a fact that few other people believe. You tell a new acquaintance that you teach middle school and you’d think from the look on their face that you diffuse bombs in Afghanistan or broker peace in the Middle East. They thank me for my service, equal parts awed and disgusted that a person like me could exist. Recently, knowing the small fraction of parenting that I now know, I have begun to understand why people fear the middle school stage of life. But I also know that that fear doesn’t have to be all there is, and so I wanted to share with you why I love your children. I really do truly love getting to work with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders every day. My prayer is that one day Nathaniel will have teachers who can see in him what I may struggle to see day in and day out.
Here is what I love about your children:
Middle Schoolers challenge everything.
I believe in my heart of hearts that this is the reason middle schoolers get such a bad rap. There is nothing I can say without getting a “Wellllllllll” or “I meeeeeeannnnn” in response. I can ask, “Can we all agree breathing is better than not breathing?” and I’ll get five hands in the air before I’ve finished the sentence. And yes, it gets annoying. But it is also the single motivator that brings me back to school every morning to interact with these beautiful little weirdos. Teaching Religion (and previously Social Studies) to people in this stage of life is a gift few in the world receive. Up until middle school, children are taught what to believe and how to believe it. When they kneel, what to say in confession, how to treat others. In middle school, many for the first time, your children start to look at the things they’ve been taught and say, “Is this true? Is it right for me? What if it isn’t?” It is in those questions that they become Christians in their own rights. Until they start to have doubts, they cannot begin to defend their faith. Last year I saw 8th graders doing research and writing articulate responses to issues such as immigration, food deserts, and gun violence in schools. I didn’t assign them topics; I asked them to find something that bothered them about the world, research what the Church has to say about it, and write a report explaining that to me. These kids care about the world around them, and seeing them begin to challenge what they know—albeit often terrifying and annoying—is the best thing middle schoolers have to offer.
Middle Schoolers don’t care about what you want them to care about.
As a parent, as a teacher, this is a frequent battle of wills. As much as I want them to care about Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, it is hard to convince anyone in the range of 11-14 that Moses is a fraction of the importance of their friend (or frenemy) across the classroom. I feel like what I’m teaching has a bearing on whether they grow up to be a good person, whether they find God in their lives, whether they choose heaven one day…but it doesn’t stand a chance against the enigmatic thoughts of their neighbor. And like I said, it’s often very frustrating. But it is also so important in their development as people. When we talk about Creation, we talk about how God created both Adam and Eve because we are meant to be in community. Jesus tells us where two or more are gathered, there also is the Father, because church exists for community. At this stage of our children’s lives, that community is the number one priority for them. Over time they will find a balance between caring about others and the other parts of life, but I often have to remind myself that it is good that they care about others. That after all is the difference between a sociopath and an empathetic adult. They crave relationship, which is such a deep motivation of the human that it’s hard to hold it against them.
Middle Schoolers want to be treated like adults—but aren’t actually adults yet.
Many of our frustrations seem to stem from one of two things: a) that our middle schoolers are not perfect adults or b) that our middle schoolers refuse to be treated like children. We literally call it middle school. We know, these kids are in the middle of developing. They aren’t children anymore, but they also definitely aren’t adults yet. I tend to err on the side of having expectations like they’re adults and loving them like children, but it really isn’t fair to treat them as though they are on either side of the continuum. I love this stage because they get to figure out where they fit into the world. Does that make it hard for us to know where we fit in their world? Certainly, but how will they ever grow past childhood without this paramount (and confusing) stage of development?
Middle Schoolers are hilarious.
Perhaps it says more about my weird sense of humor than anything else, but I laugh more in my classroom than I do in most any other setting. Your kids light up my days, sometimes when they least expect it. Their take on the world is drastically different from any other group of people, and I consider myself blessed to see the world through their eyes. I have to say the lines shouted from Vines don’t quite fit into my sense of humor, but luckily Vine seems to have faded and the next annoying trend doesn’t seem to be in full swing just yet.
I could go on with many more reasons (e.g. they break out into song at the least appropriate times, they are ready to change the world, every idea is a new idea to them), but I think the ones above sum up the main reasons I love coming to work every day. Having a middle schooler—as a child, as a student—is a blessing. A complicated one to be sure. But a blessing nonetheless. I know that I will need to read this over again when Nathaniel reaches this stage, a reminder that he is still a beautiful, unique, positive spirit. But I hope you know that we don’t roll our eyes and purse our lips when your son or daughter walks into the classroom. We may have to remind him to tie his shoes or ask her to enter silently, but we know that the gifts he or she brings are unique, that the opportunity we have to know this ever-forming person is rare. We love your middle schooler.
It's been a long time. Inhaling that unmistakable aroma of books and paper and glue and pencil shavings and - now I'm dating myself - chalk dust. Sweating out a test or two, doodling discreetly on a desk, laughing at a lunch table with friends that understood me, crying in a bathroom over a boy. A long...long time.
Yet here I am- same school, different desk. I work in the office of the same K-8 school from which I graduated. My former computer teacher is now the principal. My children are now in class with the children of some of my classmates. I can find my dad's picture on the graduation wall above "Class of 1963." My grandparents worked to help start the school in 1954.
To anyone who hasn't set foot in the building, this might appear a sheltered, rather uneventful life. But my story is deeper than that.
In my years at St. John, I learned discipline, responsibility. I learned the triumph of a job well done as well as how to start over and try again. I learned that I was loved, not because of what I could do, but because of who I was. Somehow the teachers saw in me things I could not begin to perceive in myself, and yet they were right all along. I learned my faith. It wasn't just a subject. It was something I was challenged to live. There was no other choice of school for my kids.
Time moved on and as a recovering perfectionist, I hesitantly answered God's call from the lips of Mrs. Vogtner, our current principal. I would work, not in a classroom as I had for many years prior, but in the office as Director of Advancement, helping to market the school and ask for funds to advance the school's mission. I knew I would make many mistakes, but failure at SJE is a beginning- not an end. There is just as much love on the inside as I always felt on the outside. From this side of the desk, I see how a little mouse was really a mighty Eagle all along. She went to school and learned that with God all things are possible.