Developing Understanding, Imagination and Courage in Pre-Teens

Guest blog by Victoria Bradsher, Algebra Teacher, Vance Charter School

As a teacher you want to help your students develop the characteristics that enable them to grow into citizens who are willing to look out for others as they travel through life’s journey. My classes always begin with an invitation to discuss “What’s new in your world?” Topics range from the presidential elections to atomic weapons in North Korea to the latest performances on the lacrosse field. As the year progresses, students become more and more comfortable discussing anything with me “behind the closed classroom door.” Our chats have become a safety valve, a way to build community and a way to explore subjects that sometimes are a bit uncomfortable. But they have also become something more. They have also opened conversations that allow students to determine appropriate actions they could take to handle situations in their own lives.

Pre-teen boys seem to be totally self-absorbed. This is especially true for one of my classes where almost every male is a high achiever — both in academics and athletics. I was especially surprised one day to have a particularly gregarious young man ask how to tell a classmate, “They stink.” Needless to say, the classroom dissolved into the expected fits of middle school giggles with each student eager to describe the offending person and the issue. We chatted a minute about what might be possible including the potential that this could be a problem over which the young person had no control. Students became thoughtful and appeared to understand.

The following week I sensed that our discussion of how to approach issues while maintaining an attitude of understanding and caring had made a mark. During “sharing” time, the subject of the “stinky” student arose, but this time the students had some ideas. They said they did not want to do anything that would overtly call attention to the student, but they did want to help. We talked about imaginative ways to address the issue, and they came up with the following idea.

They want to do a service-learning project that involves preparing eighth graders for high school. One of the sessions will be on hygiene, and it will be conducted by two of our former students. The plan is to hold this particular discussion on the day we get out for Easter break. The class decided to provide Easter baskets for ALL 8th grade students. Not only will the basket include Easter candy, but one of our local industries, Revlon, will donate deodorant and talcum powder. One of our parents, who owns a chain of drug stores, will donate toothbrushes, toothpaste and mouth wash. Baskets will also include breath mints and chewing gum.

The students are excited about this project, not only because it has been fun for them, but also because they have taken an imaginative action to help solve a problem in a way that does not offend anybody. I am excited too. This is not an Algebra topic, but it is a life lesson, which I hope I also model. The conversations, the thinking, the actions have all helped bring these students closer. It also helped them look inside themselves for ways to address sticky issues. They impress me with their understanding of several virtues.


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