Reflections of a Middle School Teacher by Kris Barr Paquette
Picture this. It’s mid-August. I have a million thoughts flying through my scattered brain while I speed through the grocery store. Things to get for my son’s sleepover party. What I still need to do in my classroom. I’m in a hurry because I am trying to squeeze in this grocery shopping chore during my son’s baseball practice and make it back in time to pick him up. With a basketful of junk food and pop, I am quickly putting items on the conveyor belt. I notice the young cashier interacting with the customer ahead of me, but I’m pretty preoccupied.
Finally, it’s my turn to check out. As I am entering my loyalty rewards number, I hear the young man address me. “Hey, aren’t you Mrs. Paquette? You teach at the Middle School, right? You were my 7th grade Language Arts teacher.”
I smile and look up from what I was doing reflexively looking at his name tag. Greg M. Hmm. Greg M. I don’t remember this boy. I think to myself, my mind racing. He’s a clean-cut guy, mid-twenties with dark hair. I just can’t remember him. But, I’ve been teaching a long time now, 18 years, and my memory is not as great as it once was. So, I say my standard go to line in this situation, “Oh my gosh, it is so nice to see you. I am glad you spoke to me, you guys change so much after Middle School, I didn’t recognize you.”
And the thing is, I truly mean every word. I am always happy to hear from them, even if I cannot retrieve their name in that pressure-filled moment. These kids become our own. They always have a special place in our hearts. We worry over them as we do our very own children, and I always hope I have done enough for them to help them on their life’s journey.
The young man hears me say, “. . .you guys change so much after Middle School.” and he chuckles to himself. I notice his eyes, for a split second, drop down. We go onto a quick, but pleasant conversation. He’s enrolled at college, taking classes to become a Science teacher. I tell him we are on the brink of a teacher shortage, and we need good teachers. I suggest he do some subbing locally while he finishes his degree. We are both smiling, but something is nagging me in the back of my mind. I do not remember this boy. I do not remember Greg M., but there is something that feels familiar about the way he talks, and his mannerisms.
I collect my receipt heading back out into the sweltering heat to load my groceries into my car. My mind is still trying to place this kid. I’m mentally flipping back through yearbook pictures. Suddenly it hits me. I do not remember that boy, but he does remind me of a girl. What was her name? Think. Think. Think. Gabby M. That’s it. I remember how she talked. Her mannerisms flashback through my mind. He was Gabby M. No wonder he chuckled.
Driving away, I can’t help think about how I failed Gabby back then in seventh grade. She was socially awkward, but a sweet, sweet, kind kid. We had a good relationship. But, in hindsight, some of that awkwardness makes sense now. She was clearly struggling with some identity issues. I think about my classroom library eight years ago, and I must confess it was very limited on gender identification themes.
It makes me sad that what Greg needed most from me sadly just wasn’t on the shelf; he needed books he could see himself in. I promise myself to continue to do better. I urge you to think diverse as you purchase books for your classroom, too.
Kris Barr Paquette has been a reading teacher for 18 years at Marshall Greene Middle School in Birch Run, Michigan. She currently is the Title I Reading Specialist servicing fifth through eighth grades. She’s a Harry Potter fan, a true Gryffindor- if you must know, and an avid reader. When you don’t find her at school, she’ll most likely be reading on her front porch. You can connect with her on Twitter: @Readingteachkbp
Thank you for sharing this. We can only learn and grow.
Thanks so much for the read and for your poignant insights.
Please add Lily & Dunkin to your list. This is an amazing book that addresses not only the lived realities of our transgendered students but our students who struggle with mental illness as well. I cannot recommend it highly enough!
You sound like an amazing person. I will say though – I was in 5th/6th grade in 1990. Transgender wasn’t in anyone’s vocabulary back then (at least not in my heavily-Catholic hometown, population 6K… unless it was said it Mass in which case I wasn’t paying attention). I wish for young Greg he had had someone who saw him for who he was. TG he got through his teen years, found his real self, and is learning to shine as such. He must have felt some love and hope.
At the same time, please don’t be quick to beat yourself up for not using a tool you probably didn’t even know existed. It sounds like you did the best you could with what you had at the time and approached your students with love and empathy.
But this is why bust our butts (as writers, parents, teachers): so the next generation can have it better than we did, and give their kids better than they had.
Thank you for this list, and I also need to recommend Lily & Dunkin. 🏳️🌈
Wow. What a powerful reminder. Sure, we didn’t know as much “back then” and the books weren’t as available, but now we know, and now there are books, and now we can add that layer of diversity. We will keep learning and keep adding as time goes on.
Some other good books in my classroom with trans, intersex, and genderfluid characters are The Bride Was a Boy, Girl Mans Up, None of the Above, If I Was Your Girl, and The Other Boy.