For the second year in a row, I started 7th grade History class with a “quiz.” It’s really a series of questions for the students that are designed to give them a chance to tell me about themselves in a private and creative way. They are 7th graders, the most self-absorbed creatures on the planet, and so they very much enjoy the chance to write about themselves. I ask them what superpower they possess; I ask what them what their favorite thing to do is; I ask them where they most like to be and then I ask what place they’d like to visit. I invite them to practice their autograph and then to identify something in history that they’d like to know more about.
7th graders are notoriously difficult and opinionated. I often tell parents that if you survive 7th grade, you’ve made it through the hardest year. Parents in the midst of the struggle nearly always respond with a nod of understanding. 7th graders are less difficult at school then they are at home because the adults at school, no matter how caring, won’t put up with the whining, sharp tongues, and quick frustration that their parents endure. That’s not to say this middle school year is easy, more that its challenges are externalized and are shared by the whole 7th grade community: getting organized; learning to be kind to one another; practicing empathy; seeing beyond the self; learning to cope with adversity.
But the best part of the 7th grade is that underneath the gruff 13-year old exterior lies a maturing child who is increasingly capable of sophisticated thinking, Bit-by-bit they begin to understand the complexity of the world and their place in it. So even when things are difficult, the typical 7th grader has moments of self-less clarity. It is this that I find most charming about 13 year olds.
Even so, for parents in the midst of the dark moments it is sometimes hard to see the light that is starting to shine. So I suspect that they’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn that when asked, many of the 7th graders in my class identify home with family as their favorite place to be. They wrote that they feel loved and happy there. Perhaps it would surprise families to learn that many of them long to go to a new place in the company of family, the people with whom they most enjoy sharing adventures.
Some of them had “superpowers” that were touching. The shortest child in the 7th grade identified his height as a superpower. One of six twins in the grade told me that being born with another human being was his superpower. Another explained that being able to laugh at anything was her superpower. These are awfully astute observations and evidence of children who know they are blessed.
13 year-olds may be bigger, more opinionated, and more combative than 6 year-olds but their most super power is that there is still a lovely child inside. I’m so glad that these 7th graders are mine to cultivate, enjoy, and sometimes bemoan. Because my superpower is them.