A PSA to non-teachers and advice for our younger selves
(Sixth grade (?) Gretchen)
A friendly PSA to all non-teachers out there: Summer is NOT a paid vacation.
For every time I wanted to scream and curse but didn’t. For every pencil, I loaned and never got back and for all those that I glued ugly, fake flowers to and found broken to smithereens on the floor beneath a desk. For every time I repeated directions and had a kid ask immediately after, “What are we doing?” For every fart and not-so-secret nose pick. For every dollar of my own money I spend on snacks and books and supplies and incentives. For every tear shed-both theirs and mine. And for every worry about what it’s like for some of my kids who leave school and go to a home where maybe no one worries for them. For those and more, I need every blessed minute. For myself and my own children, so that in August I can give all of myself to a new batch of seventh graders.
All this to say that summer gives me a chance to reflect on my own seventh-grade self and the advice I wish someone had given me (or maybe they did, but I wasn’t paying attention #selectivehearing). Keep in mind that I actually skipped seventh grade. This is no boast. My high school math teachers probably wished I had stayed on my original trajectory. I tell you this because it is so ironic, and it proves to me that God has a hilarious sense of humor. In college, I was a secondary education major who had 99% of practicum experiences in high schools. Hired right out of student teaching as a seventh-grade teacher has ensured that I have been through the grade 11 times so far.
So I feel more than qualified to give all the advice that I am retroactively trying to follow myself.
What you read and what you write. What you speak and how you listen. And today, what you post on the internet. It will define you. How you view the world and yourself and others. So use words cautiously erring on the kind and gentle side. Encourage and build up. Show the world they will want the change you are offering. Be a safe place for people and gain trust through the words you say and those you don’t.
Your mind. Your heart. Your body. Realize that you have worth regardless of what you have or have not done. You will teach people how to treat you. People who know their worth exude worthiness and attract people who respect worth. Those people also don’t get bent out of shape when people can’t or won’t love them back.
Also, girls, your bodies are miracles. They do amazing things and no matter your shape, love them. Eat seven pieces of pizza with abandon while your metabolism is still your best friend. She will abandon you one day, but by then, hopefully, you will have new and more impressive reasons to love yourself--flaws and all.
Don’t take life too seriously.
Studying and doing your best is so important. For me, working hard has almost always lead to success. But there is something to be said for making A+ memories too. Taking that senior slacker class with friends. Maybe taking off a night from studying so you can TP someone or play ding-dong ditch even though you are far too old to think it’s that dangerous or funny. Participating in activities that won’t bring you scholarships but will mean tons of inside jokes on long bus rides with friends that you will run into at Target over a decade later and be immediately transported back to that moment where you were laughing so hard your faces hurt (that’s why I was a wrestling and softball manager that one year, Kate, Mandi, and Kelli).
I have not used any knowledge from my upper-level science courses since college, but I do reminisce about cherished memories often. So work hard but play hard too because jobs and kids and responsibility will be here before you know it. And try to be a grown-up that makes space for old and new friends, lazy laughs, and memories that won’t fade with time.
Don’t give up on people.
In my experience, that girl in your class who isn’t super friendly may someday be your very best friend with the sweetest, most beautiful soul (Tessa Cole :). You will experience so much change in the next few years. You will make choices, and life will happen to you. And (praises be) you will someday be far removed from your middle school self. Hopefully, you will learn and grow and not be too hard on your former self. I have reassured countless current and former students that no one is there best self at 12 or 13. You get better. Brains become less mushy and more solid. So give grace to yourself and the people you used to avoid. They may just be one of the best and most sweet surprises of your grown-up life.
Be brave, take risks, say yes (to most things but not drugs...still say no to drugs).
I spent far too much of my young life afraid of failure. Saying no invitations felt safer. If I wasn’t 110% sure I could succeed, then I didn’t allow myself to participate. Because I am only good at a handful of tasks, I had to say no a lot. I missed out on a lot. Nothing grows in the shade (except for maybe black mold, and you don’t want that).
My first big deal college paper was some sort of literary analysis on a Shakespeare play. I’ve always been a decent writer, so I was anticipating glowing comments. I got a C-, which to this type A perfectionist was basically an invitation to drop-out of college and crawl in a hole. I think I almost threw up when my professor put that essay in my hands. I thought I might die for a hot second, but I didn’t. My heart kept beating. My lungs kept breathing. The apocalypse didn’t occur. I set up a meeting with my professor who gently (because I was still red-eyed and sniffling two days later) gave me feedback, and I took all that constructive criticism like a desert vagabond. I didn’t give up, and I ended up with an A in the course and a love for writing that has only gotten stronger over the years. I’m better because I struggled. And now when I submit poems or essays or blogs, I am less scared of rejection and more proud of the effort. I know that I know that I know that God gives each of us unique gifts and experiences because He has work for us to do.
His disciples were certainly not perfect, and they definitely received constructive criticism. God is not concerned with what we are or are not capable of; it is all about what we believe He is capable of through us (i.e. anything and everything). There is such freedom to do and dream and risk when it’s more about the journey than the end result and less about us and more about God. You might fail if you try, but you definitely won’t succeed if you don’t.
Are you still with me? If so, read on for the last short and sweet tidbits of advice.
- Pay attention to and soak up time with the people in your life who are older than you. The wisdom and heritage is gold, and you will long for it when they’re gone. Trust me.
- Live with an open hand. Be generous with your time, talents, and resources. You can’t outgive God. Ever.
- Apologize sincerely when you are wrong. Full stop.
- Seek truth. Don’t just accept what you’ve been taught. Wrestle with it. Ask the hard questions. Look open-mindedly at opposing views, so you can be educated and firm in your faith.
- I know it’s in that graduation song by Vitamin C (which you probably haven’t heard of if you are in fact reading this as a current seventh grader), but wear sunscreen. Rock pasty or orange legs if you have to, so you don’t end up looking like your grandma’s faux alligator handbag. Your skin is with you until death do you part, so keep it looking baby fresh.
On that note, back to my lazy teacher summer! Ha! Just kidding!
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