Life lessons from my middle-schoolers


With this being my first column for Colorado Education, let me introduce myself: I am Karen Tarbell, principal at Cimarron Middle School in Parker. I have spent the majority of my career in education- mainly in middle school- and lived to tell about it!

When I meet new people and I share what I do for a living, people think I am crazy. Well, I am not crazy, and I do love working with middle school students and their families.

Middle school years are identified as the ages of 11 to 14. If you're a parent, you know that kids change more during these years than at any other time, except maybe in the first year of life. There are many things happening to kids socially, emotionally, and physically.

It's because of these changes that middle school kids need adults who care and support them in spite of their awkwardness, impulsiveness and sensitivity. Raising a middle schooler is not easy; I know because I raised one!

Back when I was a teacher at Cresthill Middle School, my son was a student there as well. Even though I had been a middle school teacher for several years, I gained a new perspective through my eyes as a parent and through his eyes as a student.

One memory I remember in particular involved buying a new pair of sneakers. After purchasing the sneakers, I noticed my son was not wearing them. I asked him why and he shared that the new sneakers made his feet "look too big." My son, who until this time had never been concerned about how his feet looked, was now unable to wear the new sneakers.

But the reason his sneakers made his feet look big was because his feet were big! You see, when a growth spurt is about to happen, our feet grow first to prepare for the additional weight. The reason I share this story is that sometimes our kids will act and do things that might seem out of character. It's part of the process.

Middle school kids also have a strong sense of fairness. You will often hear, "That's not fair." I believe this comes from their desire to have someone listen to them, to hear their side of the story.

One great way I've found to listen to a middle school student is to simply repeat back what you hear. It sounds like this:

Student: "My teacher isn't fair."

Adult: "Your teacher isn't fair?"

Student: "My teacher lost my assignment."

Adult: "Your teacher lost your assignment?"

Student: "I know I turned it in."

Adult: "You turned it in?"

Student: "Well I think I did, but maybe it's in my backpack."

Simply listening to a middle school kid often leads to the solution without having to offer any advice.

As adults, we believe we are here to help and guide our kids. Yes, that is partially true, but our kids are also there to teach the adults; they just don't know it. As I reflect on the students I have known over the years, I realize I have learned so much more from them than they have learned from me.

I have learned the value of patience and understanding. I have learned about forgiveness (because middle school students are very forgiving). I have also learned that some kids have hard lives and gain wisdom from those challenges that I will never have. I have learned that middle school students have opinions and thoughts that matter. Ultimately, they are leaders and want to learn. Nearly 95% of all middle school students report they want to attend college; they have big dreams. I know that sometimes middle school kids make mistakes, and I want my school to be a safe place to make those mistakes.

I tell my students all the time that this is a new day and we get to change our behavior; we get a "do-over." These are pearls of wisdom I think we can all benefit from.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you. Look for my future articles on topics such as bullying, cyber bullying, friends, and tips for technology.





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