Friday, June 09, 2017


Eighth grade is one of those signature years in a child's school life. Not quite an adolescent worthy of high school, and yet still not a total baby, thirteen-year-olds are one minute thoughtful, and the next moment absolute jerks. Call it hormones, call it the Second Age of Toddlerhood. Whatever you call it, if you're their teacher, you're often in for a wild ride.

This year's 8th grade class gave every middle school teacher who knew them a run for our money. From the first day of school, they never stopped socializing when they weren't supposed to, and several of them had attitude heaped on more attitude, with a side of "I don't give a shit." The last couple months, they got even worse.

And I was tasked with helping them create a fantastic performance for their promotion ceremony.

Oh, boy.

Three of the more awesome girls were tasked with coming up with an idea for a script. Their ideas were great, but it was taking forever, so I took what they'd started and added to it. Finally, we had a working script for what I would later name: "Graduation: A Comedy." I passed it out and laughed behind the backs of whining 8th grade boys as they yelled across my classroom, "I am not saying that! I am not doing this!!"

"Whatever," I said, smiling serenely in the face of their outrage. I knew eventually I'd win this one.

...Well, to a point.

See, I'm stubborn, but so are pubescent almost-adolescents. The closer we got to this final week of school, and the 8th Grade Promotion, the more inwardly panicked I became. As of last week, many of them still had not memorized their few lines. They had no clue when they were to walk on stage. Every time I told them to be quiet in the wings, they got louder.

They've been that kind of class all year, with all of us.

Yesterday, we had our final rehearsal. My boss worried about them being heard in the microphones. I worried as one boy sailed through his lines in the first run-through, only to forget most of them in the next one. We made a couple last-minute tweaks, but the kids were unfocused, unprepared, and really, really awkward. Even worse, they showed no indication that they cared what they looked like up there.

Meanwhile, I was green at the gills, with visions of our visiting district higher-ups sitting front and center watching the 8th graders fall apart under my watch.

Needless to say, I woke up at 3:00 this morning, with the Russian song they'd be singing after their skit stuck in my head. I slept fitfully after that, trying to find a fruit for every letter of the alphabet in my head to keep from thinking of the day ahead.

By 8:30, I was already sweating through my blouse and wishing I was anywhere but in that multi-purpose room.

Then...they surprised me.

Where in rehearsal they half-assed their lines and tried to look as bored as possible, today, with their parents in attendance, they put some life and fun into their performances. There were a couple of little mistakes that I noticed, but went completely by the audience because they weren't obvious. The jokes worked. The visiting dignitaries (our assistant superintendent, our director of HR, and a board member) laughed at all the right moments. I continued to sweat.

The start of the play was the kids recalling their younger years. When they reached middle school, I had all of them line up in an arc on the stage, as one by one, each middle school teacher called out from the audience, starting with our gruff former-Army history teacher, Ron:

"Hey!! Get to class, or I'll give you 50 push-ups!!"

He was followed by Chrystal, warning of high school essay-writing, and Dara, forecasting that algebra and geometry would be way harder than 8th grade math. Jami admonished them about following directions on the science labs. The kids slouched, looked away, rolled their eyes. Lyudmila said something in Russian that had everyone cracking up. Angela said, "Look! Listen! Don't talk!" in Spanish, followed by Paul, warning them they need to give 100% effort in high school PE. Finally, me, the sweating VAPA teacher:

"You'll be glad you took theater when you get to high school. It's great for public speaking, and confidence!"

This prompted one girl to step forward and say, "Wait! We've been talking a lot about who we used to be, and who we will be. What about who we are now?"

With that, the kids, one by one, bragged on each other's accomplishments from the school year--the soccer championship they won, the girl who read 3,000 pages, the boy who memorized the whole Periodic Table Rap in science.

"Want me to sing it now?!" he called out.

"NO!" yelled his classmates.

The visiting guys from the district roared with laughter.

After several weeks of frustration and all-out mutiny on that old stage in the multi-purpose room, somehow, when it really mattered, the little buggers pulled it out of themselves. Later, my boss told me in the staff room that she was very proud of the performance they gave, so while the most difficult 8th grade class skips off to high school, I skip off to my summer vacation with that high praise ringing in my ears.

I consider that their parting gift to me, and it is far more satisfying than any box of chocolates.

1 comment:

Erik Ammon said...

Congrats to those 8th graders for pulling it together!! Maybe they were secretly practicing on their own.