The Role of the (grade 8) Teacher

Teach it Tuesday will be posted tomorrow.  I started writing this post last Saturday and, following a series of events since then, I felt I really needed to get these words out into the internet tonight.  Thanks for dealing with the schedule change!

We’re nearly done with Term 2 of our academic year, which means my grade 8s are that much closer to The Big High School.  Are my students ready for high school yet? Nope.  Definitely not (although I’ll argue that some of them are getting there).  I am thankful that we have a handful of months left before my students leave middle school forever!  I hope this last little bit of time together will give my students the space they need in order to mature a bit more emotionally, physically and academically before we send them on their way.  Because this big transition is now literally woven into our daily schedules at school (high school visits, grade 9 course selections, etc.) I have, naturally, continued to contemplate my role as a teacher of grade 8 students.

These are the various “hats” I’ve worn at school during the past two weeks, while maintaining the constant (and arguably most important) role as “The Teacher”:

The Academic Counsellor: Note: I failed miserably at this role today – sorry grade 8s for making high school life so confusing for you.  The catchment area high school came to visit my class recently and my students were able to select their courses for grade 9.  The energy in my room was tangible while my students decided between electives such as creative writing and computers/technology.  I had the opportunity to assist my students in their high school course selection and answered questions like, “Mrs. Alleyn, do you think I could do science honours or should I stick with regular science?” One of my students found the experience of planning for her future to be extremely overwhelming and her session ended in tears.  My heart broke for this poor girl, who just needed a sympathetic ear and a boost of morale to help her choose between visual arts and musical theatre.  It is moments like these that remind me that these students are still so young! Today I realized how much of a BIG deal high school is for my grade 8s…they’re stuck in this adolescent purgatory, being the oldest in middle school and the youngest in high school.  When I first learned about middle school (where I come from middle school doesn’t exist) I wasn’t so keen on the transition from grade 8 to grade 9 because children are already extremely fragile at this age and life decisions are hard to make! Let’s just say I definitely will be playing the academic counsellor role again…and again…and again, until June 27th.

The Relationship Advice Giver: Yes, this actually happens.  In fact, last week before the first bell a group of my students (boys and girls) came to me to discuss the “hot girl on the visiting volleyball team”.  The boys were only fixated on the volleyball girl’s looks, while the girls were mad that the boys didn’t pay any attention to THEM and; therefore, “hate[d] the hot girl”.  Can anyone say raging hormones?! Playing peacekeeper, I threw out the concept of acknowledging the volleyball girl as an actual human being rather than “a hot girl”.  I asked my students if anyone actually spoke to said “hot girl”? (No).  I asked the boys what they thought might happen if they tried to talk to the girl, teenager to teenager, rather than just oogling her.  I asked the girls what might happen if they smiled and said “hi”, rather than instantly hating on her for stealing the boys’ attention.  Then I asked all involved students how they thought the volleyball girl might feel about this situation.  I suggested that she probably knows she’s beautiful, but I wondered if anyone thought to get to know her personality or her mind before judging her based on her looks.  Needless to say, everyone went to their desks with something to think about.  How’s that for a thought provoking advisory lesson?

The Dance Team Leader: My dance team is 9 weeks away from their dance festival and we are still going strong on our “No Diggity” choreography.  We have so much fun together! I can’t wait to show my students what festival is all about.

The Concerned Parent:  I list this role with caution because I realize I am no student’s parent.  That being said, I sometimes feel like a 26 year old mom to a class full of 13 year olds.  Imagine me saying: “Are you hungry? Do you have a snack today? Here, have my muffin.  Why do you look so tired? What time did you go to bed last night?  Where is your jacket? It’s freezing outside!” These types of phrases are on repeat 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, multiplied by 26, from a place of genuine concern and care.

The Persistent Nag: “Yes, you do need to pick up your things! Please speak to me in a kinder voice. Why don’t you have your PE strip…again?!  This classroom looks like a tornado ripped through it!”  Enough said.

The Communicator:  Why don’t teenagers tell important things to their parents?  WHY? Last night I emailed parents for an hour and a half in order to communicate important dates, times, projects, deadlines, etc.  I need to come up with a better system for this, because between my silent, forgetful grade 8s and my own busy, jam-packed schedule, we will keep forgetting important dates and missing deadlines if something doesn’t change soon!

The Safe Space Provider:  One of my students drew and coloured a Gay Pride flag for our classroom and it lives on one of

My wise and full-of-love friend, Nadine, has these two stones near her all the time.  Whenever she needs to detach herself from a situation in order to protect or heal her own heart, she holds tight to these stones (literally).  Thanks Nadine, for reminding me that it's okay to detach and heal for my own sanity.

My wise and full-of-love friend, Nadine, has these two stones near her all the time. Whenever she needs to detach herself from a situation in order to protect or heal her own heart, she holds tight to these stones (literally). Thanks Nadine, for reminding me that it’s okay to detach and heal for my own sanity.

our bulletin boards.  We are getting really good at monitoring our language in our classroom (a habit I hope sticks with my students outside of the classroom too…).  We are starting to appreciate one another a bit more and we continue to celebrate the various gifts we bring through our classroom door everyday.  This all sounds lovely and very “Sound of Music”-esque, but trust me, we are not without our problems.  This week (yes, it’s only Tuesday), has been a particularly intense week so far for me when it comes to being the safe space provider for my students.  I know it’s not entirely my responsibility because my students need to bring their gifts and skills into the classroom to help create a welcoming space…but this task is just so hard.  Let’s just say my 20 minute drive home today was very much tear-filled.  Sorry to anyone who had to witness my ugly cry at stop lights.

The One No Body Cares About: I include this one as a joke, kind of.  Sometimes 13 year olds just don’t care about the adults in their lives because the world revolves around them, and only them, all the time.  #wedon’tcaremrsalleyn

I’d like to close this post with a note I received from my childhood friend, Kathryn, who is newly engaged and teaches grade 5 in Manchester. Her words helped ease today’s ugly cry.  Thanks, Kath, you’re a gem:

Hey Karley […] I just wanted to take a minute to tell you how amazing I think your blog is. I can feel you passion through your blog and you are such a hard worker, a job in Victoria, you should feel so proud! I also thought I would say that I used one of your lessons in my class last week! I am teaching grade 5 girls in an independent school and it is a magical job! I by no means have tough, unmotivated students…but being all girls, they can sometimes get a bit mean to each other, which I hate seeing! We do Feel Good Friday almost every week, but I did the Circle of Kindness Activity the other day and it worked wonders! After we each wrote something kind about each person in the class, we had 3 minutes of silent reading, so that each student could take in all these kind compliments that everyone else wrote about them. After our silent read, I asked them to go around in a circle and say one word that summed up how they were feeling at this moment. This is where the magic really happened. Some of the words that the girls said were “giddy” “disbelief” “wowed” “ecstatic” “fantastic” “loved”…I seriously almost cried!! We talked about the importance of knowing that we all like each other and we ALL have king things to say about one another! Anyways, I just wanted to let you know what a success your idea was, even in my class in Manchester! Hope you’re well. Miss you!

What an encouragement you are to your students and to me, Kathryn!  Thank you.


2 thoughts on “The Role of the (grade 8) Teacher

  1. Hi Karley!
    I sure love reading your blogposts when they come up in my newsfeed :). This one was particularly inspiring and I definitely teared up a bit! I’m certain you are one of those teachers your students will remember and keep on their ‘list’ of amazing teachers.
    Keep up the great work!

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