Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Unbearable Lightness of Eighth Grade

Abeunt studia in mores  -- Ovid
I've been teaching the Middle School years of 6th - 8th grade for about 13 years now.  There may have been a few years with only 3rd-5th, but it's been mostly Middle School.  So I'm entitled to a few general observations.  Avert your eyes if you are the parent of one of the kids I am currently teaching and you have a queasy stomach.  These years are called "that awkward age" for good reason.  I promise I will not say anything negative about your darling child that would damage his or her self-esteem.  Although, I wonder how often people worry about the self-esteem of middle-school teachers.
6th graders have issues with maturity, with organization, and with unwanted kinesthetic and verbal activity during class.  They are the most likely group in my experience to jump up and down with undisguised glee as we chant Latin verb endings to the tune of "Yankee Doodle."  They think "Semper ubi sub ubi" is the most hilarious joke in the world.  They gasp with horrified amazement as I reveal one of the scandalous deeds of the emperor Nero.  Somewhere in the fog between 6th and 7th grade, they lose that enthusiasm.  You might never notice, because they are busy growing physically during that same time span. I'm always a little sad when they stop imitating jumping beans, but it does mean that I'll be able to follow a more extended chain of reasoning with them than previously possible.
7th graders are the most likely group to have academic issues for me.  Part of this is because we introduce the subjunctive mood in 7th grade, which means that for several of them there just isn't enough empty brain space to keep the indicative mood straight, AND learn new vocabulary, AND review for the quiz on Friday.  All of this, and they're exhausted from the sheer physical energy required to make it through puberty.  But despite the real difficulties of 7th grade, a lot of emotional maturity comes along during that year.  I see a decline in some of the pointless childhood meanness, a dawning realization that others have a life of their own, and a fractional bit more of what Chaucer called gentilesse,  On those points, 7th grade is a good year, but with a lot of hiccups.
8th graders are the ones with existential issues.  And I have to say, I never quite understood existentialism.  By this time they are nearly full-grown physically, newly aware that the opposite sex is interesting, but still years from figuring out what they are supposed to do with their lives that isn't self-serving.  It's not their fault; the whole world has been set up to serve them up to this point, and the smarter ones are starting to realize it won't always be this way, and that's scary.  I try to give them a lot of dense Latin grammar to take their minds off the angst; sometimes this has the unintended consequence of creating a completely different sort of angst.
Reaction to angst produces goofiness.  It's everywhere in 8th grade. There was a seemingly serious attempt to convince me this week that Julius Caesar wrote a lot of run-on sentences.  "He obviously never had Mrs. Brabec as a teacher," they said, as if that was a Q.E.D.   I'll give you the fact that those sentences were compound-complex with multiple ablative absolutes and accusative with infinitive, but they were not run-on.  And today's sentence, featuring the gerundive of a dative verb: "Hostibus omni ratione nocendum est."  It is necessary to harm the enemy in every way.  So how did we get from there to injuries caused by butter?  I really lost that thread somewhere.  Perhaps we need to channel our energies into a gerundive hunt and finding Disney Princess references in mythology stories. 
High School had a social recently.  The theme was neon bright colors.  Secundus is in the left front, adjusting his pink tie.  Former 8th graders, every one of them.  In their day, they gave me Petentibus the Gaul, the Boii and Tulingi and Latobrigi as different kinds of bugs, "Defuit Epicum - Epic Fail", and countless morbid jokes.  If they survived Middle School, so can you!

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