I have never been so glad to have a job as I was this past Monday morning. Last week I took my last child off to college. The emptiness and quiet in the house would be a little too much to bear were it not for spending my days interacting with high school freshman. They are excited, energetic, dramatic, and unpredictable. As it is, by the time I get home, quiet sounds good.
The first year of high school is an important one, the foundational year where habits of mind are developing, self-discipline is growing, and time mangagement becomes as necessary to learn as any one subject the student is studying. My students come to me either swaggering because they were the oldest and the leaders of the middle school and haven’t quite realized the world they have entered, or quaking in their boots because they know they are the bottom feeders in the high school. Either way, they have a steep learning curve.
Suddenly they are hearing about college-preparedness, transcripts, Honors and AP classes. They are part of JV and varsity sports, cheerleading, dance team, band and show choir. They have social lives. They eat lunch at the same time as the juniors and seniors, and they worry about sitting at the “wrong” lunch table, or if they’ll have a table at which to sit. The high-school dean with the flat-top haircut has them on his radar.
Their bodies are growing and changing so fast that often their brains seem to have erased every good thing their parents ever taught them. The boys seem to be all long-bones and feet. The girls don’t notice those boys because suddenly they are looking at the young men in the junior and senior class. Alas, the ninth grade boys’ behavior escalates in an attempt to be noticed again by these girls in their class. A vicious and comical circle. The parents may wonder what happened when the first grades come out.
They are processing volumes – socially, emotionally, mentally, and physically – so much is going on. Patience and encouragement are needed. One of my colleagues wrote a great line on her blog a few days ago which bears repeating here, “Challenge is good, and grades are less important than growth.” – D. Seibenthaler.
Ninth grade is a time to build good habits, to be stretched, even to be a little frustrated. A piano teacher told me when I was about the age of my students, “ When you think you don’t know anything and are getting frustrated, real learning is about to take place.”
I haven’t forgotten that line spoken to me thirty-five years ago and I’ve experienced its truth so many times. Though we are buidling resumes’ for college and grades are recorded on transcripts, no one moment of ninth grade will define a student’s college choice. No one test grade determines the semester average. An upward trend is what a college admissions officer wants to see, a growing student who learns more and more how to study, how to master, how to manage time, how to set goals and achieve them.
An upward trend represents growth, which is what ninth grade is all about. So while the students are growing in exciting, unpredicatable and dramatic ways, we parents and teachers need a heavy dose of patience and encouragement, a prayer closet, a sense of humor, and a long view.