The backstory: One of my Assistant Principal responsibilities is to be a presence at school events. Sometimes that means cheering on the cross country runners; on other days that means sitting with the Middle School choir during the Spring Choir Concert, as I did on Thursday evening. The event is at an old chapel on campus at Rutgers University. Our Middle School Choir sings and also watches as various Upper School Choirs perform. The performance is one thing and in their starched white shirts and black skirts and pants they are both cute and nervous as they sing. Afterward, when their portion of the concert is complete, they file back into the church pews on the side of the chapel. Then the madness really begins. They know they should sit still, keep quiet, and be a good audience but they find it nearly impossible to do so. On Thursday, in addition to the more-than-occasional shush, I seized a few cell phones. After the event, 7th grader A asked if he could have his phone back. I invited him for a conversation.
Me: Buddy, there were students perfuming as their families watched. It’s rude to be on your phone. What were you doing?
A (in earnest assurance): I was checking the NFL draft to see who the Cleveland Browns got to pick.
In my mind, I wanted to say, “You’re a 7th grader, not the fucking president of the Cleveland Browns.” But I know this child and I especially know the concerns of 7th grade boys. Chief among them are their sports teams. I know that A is not the president of the Cleveland Browns but A, all of 4’7” of him, well, he isn’t quite so sure. So rather than shout or offer the obvious, we ended our conversation in a different fashion.
Me: I get it, but checking your phone while students perform is rude. You need to be a good audience and keep your fingers crossed that things go well for the Browns.
7th grade is often the the most difficult part of adolescence, a churning sea of anxiety and frustration. Voices and bodies are rapidly changing (or they aren’t and that’s a burden of a different sort), emotions swing wildly, and insensitivity abounds. My job is to be the steady anchor on this ship of fools, to be compassionate and empathetic, and to kindly direct them as we sail through it together. Lucky for me, there are plenty of opportunities to laugh and smile as we navigate the storms. As for the Cleveland Browns, well, A is on the job. They should be just fine.