I was a middle school teacher. Most people cringe when I say that (including myself). It’s a tough age to teach and it’s a tough age to be. I knew that and it’s why I chose to be a middle school teacher.
You see, I was an underdog in school. I was a brainiac, a nerd, a Jesus freak, or whatever the label of the moment was. I was “accused” of being a lesbian because I didn’t have a boyfriend in high school. I felt lonely and alone, much of the time.
It sounds odd because I also hung with a popular crowd. I was one of those kids that could assimilate themselves into any group. I just never actually belonged to any of those groups. It was painful but luckily I had an older brother an sister. When I was going through tough times in high school, I would spend a weekend with my sister at college.
All of her college friends thought I was the cool little sister. It was the light at the end of the tunnel for me. I knew that if I could just make it to college, I would find the right people to surround myself with. I had hope. I knew I would find acceptance.
As I got older, acceptance of myself is actually what became more important. It’s been a long hard road to get to acceptance. And it’s all because of my adolescence.
When I was studying to become a teacher, I had to take a course in Adolescent Psychology. They stressed to us how important peer acceptance is at that age. They didn’t have to tell me. My self-esteem has suffered for years as a result.
I did go on, though, to gain my teaching certification and taught middle school science for a year and a half. It was important to me because I knew how critical that time was for these kids, many of whom came from underprivileged backgrounds. Every day was a struggle. I saw the misfits. I saw kids getting picked on. I saw kids remaining silent because they didn’t want anyone to bother them. I saw the smart kids hold back.
I tried my best to be a crusader in the classroom. I didn’t want to admit that kids can simply be cruel. I wanted to teach them to accept one another. Ambitious, I know. I did my best to protect the kids that needed protecting, to stand up for them. I have to tell you, it doesn’t always help.
It was such a tough job for me that when I relocated to another state, I chose not to go back into teaching. I also had strong feelings about never having children. It was difficult and stressful. It was thankless. And sometimes, it was downright cruel.
As the years went on, I took a chance on parenthood, knowing there was no return policy. But I also knew I had approximately 13 years to shape my son into who wanted him to be. He’s 3 years old now. I’m pretty proud of him. He’s almost 4. For the most part, he’s loving, caring, compassionate, thoughtful. And he has a temper. He is 4 after all.
At 4 years old, we’re seriously thinking about his school experience. And it keeps me up at night. I want to hide him away from the evils of the world. I don’t want him to encounter a single cruel person in his life. Ever.
I think about sending him to private schools. I think a lot about a Montessori education where they seem to value and celebrate diversity. But a physical building doesn’t guarantee protection from bullying. It happens at the playground. It happens online.
My son is growing up in a world where words like text, email, and tweet are commonplace. He throws them around. He told me before bathtime last night that he had to finish his tweet (he obviously listens to his mother very intently). He plays games on his iPhone (a non-working old version from Mom and Dad). He’s played online games.
But I’m there. I watch everything he watches. I send him only to websites that I pull up. I haven’t taught him how to navigate the web. He’ll probably figure it out on his own anyway. When the time comes, I will ensure there is every parental control enabled.
I can’t avoid his use of the online world. It’s a part of my daily life and I certainly expect it to become part of his. But until he has the maturity to understand online interactions (which many adults still don’t understand), I will continue to guard and protect and monitor and watch like a hawk. Because my role as a parent is to teach him right from wrong and keep him safe as long as I can. And that’s what I plan to do, online and off.