Middle school students are a delight! This bodes especially true in mid June…the last remaining days of school before summertime bliss. Just as true, those little whipper snappers really know how to keep their teachers in line. I know. I was one of those teachers for close to fifteen years. Now, I only live vicariously through my friends still living, breathing and teaching.
The last few days for the middle school community consist of two things: children and childrensitting. Notice I don’t refer to the middle schoolers as babies, because although their behavior can be recognized as baby like on these days, their ages define them as children. After taking a final exam one week before the school calendar moves them forward to high school status, a once promising, maturing adolescent digresses for the remaining days of middle school, leaving the parents chuckling at the teachers’ expense. The students chuckle as well, knowing they have four aces in the hole, and will happily show them to you upon request. Academically, they have checked out and the teachers smell it. The teachers are now the ones in survival mode. How do we keep them busy without anyone getting hurt? That’s really the only thing a teacher thinks about on these days, other than the closest bar they will all convene seconds after the last school day ends.
Ideally, teachers would place all the students in a sound proof padded room with straight jackets, only armed with their loud mouths. This way, other than peoples’ feelings, no one gets harmed. Unfortunately, this is not an option. Therefore, teachers put their paycheck to use by planning more and preparing more for V Days and P Days. These are Vacation Days for students and their parents, and Penance Days for the teachers who receive the next two and a half months off.
You reserve these last days for indoor and outdoor activities requiring no brain stimulus whatsoever, only meaningless corralling by means of simple manipulation: Bribery. A wise teacher spends part of his or her paycheck buying a few sodas and candy bars, because a large percentage of the students will finish just about any task you provide to bask in chocolate or carbonated glory. Just because a student isn’t required to read, write, add or subtract, they still must remain busy in order to keep the teacher from taking an unpaid leave of absence so close to the very last bell. Organize those books for a Mountain Dew. Take down all those phony motivational posters I put up at the beginning of the year for a Snickers bar. Place all these papers I didn’t grade in that paper shredder and keep your mouth shut for a Milky Way and a Pepsi. Right there, you’ve wiped out about forty percent of your problems.
Knocking out another forty percent is basic locker clean out, an organized play day featuring softball, volleyball, mud wrestling and racketeering (played by future convicts who have stolen some of the sodas you purchased the night before). You also have the “Lack of Talent Show” and finally, yearbook signing. As a teacher, you try to stretch this crap as far as you can by doing a little as you can, yet it still leaves about twenty percent of the remaining students who don’t wish to participate in any of these events. These are the “I’m bored” students. They may be the worst kind of breed at this age. So, as a teacher, you may have to come up with something special to prevent each and every last school day lawsuit. Hocus Jocus!
To this day, I’ve never met a person, young or old, tall or short, delightful or miserable, who won’t drop anything when they see the newspaper puzzle “Hocus Focus”. This puzzle includes two pictures which look alike, yet ten differences are hidden between the two of them and you are challenged to find those differences. If a person is getting mugged on a city street and the mugger and “muggee” look up and see a billboard displaying two of these pictures challenging them to find the differences, they both immediately stop struggling and won’t resume until they find them. They may even help one another. These puzzles are that intriguing. It is, by far, the most entertaining portion of People magazine. (When my wife and I travel, we always compete with each other trying to find the extra tooth in Tom Cruise’s electrifying smile.) Middle school students are no exception to this rule. For some reason, if you place these on the overhead projector, or these days, a “Smart Board”, students’ mouths lock shut like pit bull on a pecan pie until they find each dissimilarity. It’s magic for about five minutes. So, once they celebrate finding all the differences, you place an additional one up to kill another five minutes. Each five minutes of silence replaces that beer the teacher wishes to have in his or her hand as the clock keeps ticking. After the the third hocus focus, the students will eventually lose focus, and one or two will eventually, and obnoxiously bellow, “These are too easy”. Twenty minutes still remain before you can legally release the teenage hounds into a world in which you may never see them again unless it’s on the five o’clock news. Solution? Even easier. Place two identical pictures in front of them and watch them silently struggle trying to find ten differences which do not exist. It’s the most senseless time kill of all eternity, and for a middle school teacher, these twenty minutes of quiet amidst potential bedlam, it’s like a swedish massage…..whatever that is. Only seconds before the final bell rings will one student stand up and say, “THIS IS BULL@#$%! THESE PICTURES ARE THE EXACT SAME!” With an enormous grin on my face, I would listen to the last bell, and say “Have a terrific summer! Sayonara @#$%kickers!”