The Ups and Downs

By: Amber Chandler

When my husband and I were dating, and we had all the time in the world, back when we strolled through bookstores, we stumbled upon a book called The Book of Questions. We bought it, placed it in the glovebox of my car, and we pulled it out every time we were stuck in traffic, on a road trip, or just in the mood to "get deep." One of the questions we really loved, and we revisited often, was this: "Would you rather have a smooth, uncomplicated life, without any major pain or sorrow OR would you rather have a path like a rollercoaster, with amazing highs but also devastating tragedies too?" (This was two decades ago, so I'm paraphrasing) We thought this was the most telling question and felt we were very deep for understanding why the roller coaster was preferable. Now, years later, we've come to realize how cute and naive we were to believe that it is ever a choice.

Last month we talked about the milestones and awkwardness of middle school, and it was exciting to see thoughts posted in the comments and those shared across other platforms. Please continue to join this conversation and share your experiences about your students. Back when my husband and I were dreaming of our rollercoaster future, we didn't realize the terrifying fact that one day we'd have our own little people, on their own roller coasters, and we would be largely helpless in the ups and downs of their lives. As parents, it is at turns heartbreaking, exhilarating, exciting, and exhausting.

As teachers, we are in the same predicament. We want our students to take risks, try new things, and grab all opportunities, yet we want to protect them too. I always have knots in my stomach when the cast list is posted for the play or cuts made to the team. Of course, students need to learn resilience and how to lose gracefully, but it is so nauseating to go along for the ride. How can we help them through the ups and downs? Is there even a way?

We can create safe spaces for honest conversations, encourage academic risk-taking by normalizing failing at tasks, allow retakes and fresh starts, and try to remember that like all of us, they have no choice in their life path. I have students who have lost a parent or sibling, others who have been homeless, and still others who are the high scorers, the leads in plays, and earn straight As. Though of course our empathy lies with those who are facing the biggest falls, we must not ignore the pressures that come with the highs as well. Being the lead in the play is scary. The expectation of ability that comes with sports, and the stress of grades and honor societies are overwhelming as well.

Though many students have supports in place to help with this crazy roller coaster, there are many who don't. So, this month I'd like to turn our attention to an important question: How can we, as teachers, help middle schoolers navigate the emotional rollercoaster of adolescence?

Follow me on Twitter @MsAmberChandler and use #AMLE to share your thoughts, strategies, and inspiring stories, and to grow together as middle level educators.

Published April 2019.

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Student EngagementStudent Achievement


18 comments on article "The Ups and Downs"

You bring up a good point in the article that the "highs" can be stressful for our students. We should be aware that getting the lead in the school play or being known as the star athlete on a sports team can cause unwelcome feelings for our students. In addition to any pressure that they may put on themselves, they may also feel pressure from parents or classmates. We should acknowledge these feelings and support our students rather than trying to minimize their feelings if they show signs that they are stressed.

We can also model positive responses to highs and lows by talking about some of our own life events and share how we handling them.

4/7/2019 2:39 PM

All of this is so true, it is amazing what some of our student's have been through, roller coasters some of us can never imagine. Some of their roller coasters are speeding through those loops, hills, and curves so fast it is hard to keep track or keep up. Sometimes the best thing we can do is listen.

4/7/2019 6:04 PM

I think too that we must give our kids tools to help them view their world as they ride the roller coaster of life. I worked with our school counselor to help our students understand the importance of recognizing and dealing with the stresses and be there to share the successes. The more advocates kiddos have, the better!!

4/7/2019 10:06 PM

This article speaks to the importance of every student having an adult who knows and cares about him or her. Every student must be known (and not just in class). Even for students who appear to "have it all together," the time of adolescence is full of changes emotionally, socially,cognitively, physically, and academically. When schools intentionally ensure every student has a adult he or she can trust and talk to, we help provide support all of the time, for the ups, downs, and pretty even days. Adult support cannot be understated. It is critical to our students' development.

4/8/2019 9:22 AM

Teachers can help by providing space for students to cope in school. Classrooms tend to be so busy with work, doing something. Teachers need to also recognize that not doing work is just as productive to students and the work. Students need down time to reflect and relax that they don't always get away from school or at school

4/8/2019 12:53 PM

Thoughtful blog post. With all the discussion around trauma informed practices, this is a good reminder that all students have ups and downs in life. To me this reiterates, the need for engaging in the middle school model to support all students as they navigate life.

4/13/2019 8:38 PM

Being a support for adolescents is so incredible important! You're so right, our students do have highs and lows and being considerate of that can make a huge difference in the engagement of students. Being a role model and listening to my students will come before anything else!

5/1/2019 12:21 AM

I am currently a student at Northern Kentucky University studying Middle Grades Education. It is a huge priority of mine that my future students can confide in me and turn to me when they need a shoulder to cry on, advice, praise, and so much more! Life is truly a rollercoaster and it is important that I am there for my students throughout the ups and downs of life.

5/3/2019 5:19 PM

This is a great blog post. I love how we are reminded that all students face ups and downs in their life. This is why it's important to get to know your students and understand what they are going through. Sometimes all they want is someone to listen.

5/4/2019 11:20 AM

One of the most important things I have learned being a practicum student is that middle school students are experiencing the ups and downs of being adolescents. It's so important for teachers to lend a listening ear and be attentive to students.


5/4/2019 10:01 PM

Something i've learned in college so far is that when students face their ups and downs we follow it with them. It's important that we provide that listening ear and understanding so students know we are here for the entire ride, not just the academic ride or the ups.

5/5/2019 12:20 AM

I love your blog post. I think life is about taking risks, and learning resilience when times get tough. Like your example of the roller coaster, life can be sweet and at some points low and bumpy. As educators, we want to see our students succeed, but also we need to stress the importance of failure and how it makes you stronger. I think building confidence in the classroom will naturally allow our students to take risks in their studies. Thanks for sharing!

11/29/2019 3:17 PM

I think you bring up a good point. We need to understand as teachers, the ups and downs of a middle school student so we can best support them. To create a positive learning environment for students, they need to be able to feel safe and secure in your classroom. By making connections and forming positive relationships with students, you can help them when they most need it, so they can become successful.

12/2/2019 8:47 AM

I love this post because it is not talking about eliminating the possibilities of the ups and downs but more how can we help them embrace that they happen and how to deal with it when it does. I think so many people try to avoid having failures or try to eliminate stresses from people's lives but in reality that is not how life works. Instead, by creating a positive relationship with students to give them a listening ear or provide them support when needed they will learn to grow more as an individual.

12/3/2019 12:20 PM

What a truthful post. Offering students safe place to express themselves is something that I am behind. It quite important for us to remember that life happens to children, not just adults. There are so many outside forces that can apply pressure upon students, events such as death within the family, sickness, poverty, etc. We must have empathy towards our students. They can only handle so much, and we must be observant for signs that indicate that something is going on that is not positive.

12/5/2019 2:14 PM

I absolutely love your blog posts. I think that we as teachers need to learn how to listen more and speak less. Instead of giving students constant advice, we need to just be an ear for them. By being that listening ear for students, we are building relationships and creating a safe place. We also need to remember our adolescent years and relate to that. We must not forget how hard it was to be a preteen.

12/17/2019 3:23 PM

That is a great question to ask! The middle school roller coaster is not a joke. They seem to be on a roller coaster ride of physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and behavioral changes. They need teachers who can help them stay organized so that they can succeed academically. This is often the first time they have different teachers for different subjects and change classrooms during the day. I think that as middle school teachers, we need to come up with an organizational system for our students and then step back and let them manage their work.

4/19/2020 6:15 PM

Being a support for adolescents is so incredible important! You're so right, our students do have highs and lows and being considerate of that can make a huge difference in the engagement of students. Being a role model and listening to my students will come before anything else!

12/2/2020 10:52 AM

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