First day fears belayed by wise mentor
My granddaughter will be in seventh grade this year. Sometimes she amazes me with her wisdom. A few weeks ago, I heard her telling a fellow camper not to worry about junior high. The eleven-year-old was about to enter sixth grade and admitted to Emma that she was scared.
Nothing new. All sixth-grade students are scared. Everything is new. They live in a false reality where everything and everyone is against them. They are sure they will have thirty-five teachers, twenty-seven halls to navigate, three-hundred and seven bullies, one best friend from elementary school (who will be in none of their classes), and a locker with a combination which automatically changes on the hour. They will be dropped off at the curb to find their way into a building they’ve only seen from the shelter of their mother’s wing during “Meet the Teacher” night. They will carry deep with-in their pockets lunch money to be guarded, so that if they manage to find the cafeteria, they might buy themselves a little sustenance.
They think they will have exactly thirty seconds to leave one classroom and find their way to a new classroom, a new teacher, and a book they have stored in a locker for which they can’t remember the combination, even if they find locker number 473. They think the locker is blue, but it might be orange. It may be a top locker, but one time, it was close to the floor. If they get lost, no one will help them. They will arrive in the hallway designated for eighth-graders who all carry baseball bats and have tattoos. They are convinced that life will not be good for a sixth-grader.
Emma took it as her responsibility to tell her new friend that life in junior high would be fine. “First,” she said, “don’t decorate your locker.” She’d never said anything to me, but I do remember buying her a cute little kit that included a mirror, a shelf, and a dangling, tiny chandelier powered by its own hearing-aid battery. I guess that was a bad idea. “It’s a waste. You don’t have much time, so just carry everything with you all day.” It was like Yoda saying, “The lock you cannot open. The decorations, you will trash.”
I was sitting at the next table, and I tried not to look that direction. She didn’t need my help or my thirty-years of experience teaching in junior high. She had lived through it and was there to prove it.
“Don’t worry about being late to class,” she said. “For the first three days, I was late to every class. Once I got lost and was in the wrong room for about fifteen minutes. The teacher figured it out and sent one of her students (it was an eighth-grade history class) to take me to the sixth-grade wing.” The newbie was enthralled at the wisdom of her mentor.
“PE,” she went on, “is a problem at first. If you will give up fancy shoes and wear sneakers to school every day, it will cut a lot of time getting dressed.” She moved close to the girl and whispered, “Wear your PE clothes under your regular clothes, it might be bulky and hot, but it certainly saves time.”
I was proud of her. During my junior high decades, I’d seen many a sixth-grader collapse into tears that first day. Maybe Emma should write a book … or hang out a shingle.