I always appreciate the paradox of the New Year. Perhaps the lover of literature in me simply enjoys the idea of something new and bright growing, which somehow reaches for light and life in the midst of winter and darkness. I suppose it reminds me that hope can be found in unexpected places, like the story of “The Selfish Giant” . Or “The Rose that Grew from Concrete,” a short poem, but one I often share with my students:
Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.
After all, it is a brand-new start in the middle of the school calendar. A chance to re-invent. It’s almost like a free “do-over.” We all get a chance to imagine more courageously, to risk more deeply—to try again. At this time of year, at the very least, we have permission to imagine that we might try to be the best version of ourselves.
Who doesn’t need that?
I once had an English Literature professor (from whom I inherited an enduring love of the Romantic Poets) who argued, somewhat ironically, that our names should be understood as verbs instead of nouns. After all, we are all continuously in the act of becoming…well, ourselves. So, I am continually “Dave-ing” and everyday I am growing and becoming more and more my own, unique self.
At any rate, the longer I teach, the more I become convinced that nowhere is this more prominent than in middle school where our students are daily forming their identities in visible and visceral ways. And, for me, this might be the most exciting and rewarding place in education. We’re currently knee-deep in The Outsiders with our senior cohort, and as I read about Greasers and Socs while falling in love with the story again, I find myself noticing parallels between the 1960s, adolescence and identity.
After all, adolescence is a little like the 1960s: an interesting and provocative time where conventions are questioned, traditions are challenged and identity is actively explored. And, like the 1960s, it can be a little messy. It’s a time we ask questions about our faith; our gender and sexuality; our families and traditions; our politics and, fundamentally, who we are in this wide, wild world. At one time, I might have called this an existential crisis.
In Middle Years, it’s just Tuesday.
Our students are continually discovering where they fit into a rapidly, and unprecedentedly, changing world—a world in which they desire to become adults; but also want and need to be children. Their identities are burgeoning like so many diverse flowers in the garden of life: each one unique and unlimited in their potential; each one tender enough to be damaged by harsh words and actions, but strong enough to persevere through hardships and storms. Which is why we remain dedicated to rooting our program in our school and family community while we reach out into the world.
Indeed, our Middle Years Houses that foster attachments to teachers and meaningful connections with peers create a space where students learn to be brave when facing fear, to authentically celebrate mistakes, and to wholeheartedly honour success in themselves and others. Moreover, in Middle Years we are committed to academics that continue to build foundational skills while creating conditions for powerful, lifelong learners who are confident, who are curious, and who care.
Remember when you were 12 (or 13 or 14)?
Ah, it’s challenging trying to figure out who you are where sometimes it can seem that everyone else has something you don’t, where you try to muster courage but are plagued by fear, and where you desperately don’t want to fail because the applause of success seems so more rewarding. Questions of identity are starkly paramount when your name is beside your latest test score, nobody “likes” your newest post on Snapchat (or currently popular social media platform), and you’re suffering from a first love, a broken heart, or a combination of both while imagining that first kiss, or smoke, or drink.
Quite expectedly then, as our students discover what becoming a self means, they may well challenge our school’s uniform requirements, deadline expectations, and cell phone policies. And, at times, they might rail against homework, bedtimes, and family dinners, too.
So, as parents and educators, we hold our expectations for our adolescents high while simultaneously holding their hearts close. Because no matter where they go or what they do, they will know that they are worthy, they are loved, and they are more than capable.
I had the privilege of working for brilliant employers during my undergraduate degree—they were committed not only to not only helping me do my job well, but were dedicated to supporting me to become… whoever it is that I was becoming.
And, ultimately, that is the work and joy of Middle Years. At the Table of Learning, we are dedicated to working together as a community of parents, students, and educators to create conditions where our adolescents might thrive.
Unlike the solitary flower that grew from concrete, however, we’re cultivating a garden—or maybe a forest. Regardless, we enjoy a community that tills a rich soil where our students can sink their roots deep so that they are supported to reach out and grow into…whoever it is they are becoming and, we hope, their very best selves.
And that is work we remain honoured to do.
Yours in Learning,
Middle Years Educator, Team Lead