Blog: Milestones

18 Mar 2019

Awesome Awkwardness

Awesome Awkwardness

By: Amber Chandler

Tonight, at my daughter's orchestra concert, right before the conductor appeared from the wings, a young man accidentally bumped his music stand. His binder tumbled down, his music spilling onto the floor. His stand partner knelt down, whisked his papers up for him, arranged it on the stand, all as the conductor walked out. There was a shared giggle between them, a sort of conspiratorial "well, that was awkward" moment, and with a flick of the conductor's wrist, the orchestra began to play.

As a voyeur to this episode, I was obviously pulling for the poor kiddo, but what struck me most was the tremendous grace that this girl afforded this awkward young musician. The fact is, the media often portrays teenagers and tweens as thoughtless, cruel, and unkind, yet I see daily acts of grace such as this. I'm not suggesting that there aren't bullies and rumors, cyber ridiculousness, and judgmental moments. Trust me, I have an eighth grader, so I know that these also are a reality.

However, many middle level educators count it as a part of our job description to meet these kiddos where they are and teach them to embrace their own humanity and the common experience of what Chris Dolgos, a Rochester, New York, member of my PLN (Twitter speak for Professional Learning Community) calls "awesome awkwardness" in his recent Tweet about middle level milestones. I love what Chris suggests here. Not only must we recognize that our students are trying to find themselves, they are also trying to shed parts of themselves they consider babyish. Chris uses poetry in his class to shape their experience of finding agency and voice.

If you've never watched "Being Twelve" that Chris suggests, you have to check it out! I was entranced by these students, and I'm already considering how I can begin my school year with eighth graders and make our own "Being Thirteen" video.

Marisa Aoki, a sixth-eighth grade math teacher, captures our role as middle level educators perfectly. What I love about her Tweet is that she both recognizes the inherent "mess" that is middle school, but also our real opportunity to help students through it. Those moments of vulnerability are so important for us to acknowledge, but there's more to it than that. For us to harness the power of our influence, we must also allow students to see us as vulnerable. I'm certainly not advocating for tears every time we might feel like it or burdening our students. Yet, I am suggesting that in for our students to grow into the people they have the potential to be, we must allow them access to adults who are thinking, emotional, feeling, and real.

I'm inspired by the grace that middle school students extend to each other regularly. In the midst of that "awesome awkwardness," we as educators can also find a way to connect with our inner middle schooler and be gentle with ourselves and each other.

Thanks for the great first interactive blog experience. Follow me on Twitter @MsAmberChandler and use #AMLE to share your thoughts on our next "Milestones" topic and I'll share with you our collective advice on: How can we, as teachers, help middle schoolers navigate the emotional rollercoaster of adolescence?

Published March 2019.

6 comments on article "Awesome Awkwardness"

I recently asked a student what adults need to know about middle schoolers and she said, "They need to know that just because we're kids and we're little that our problems aren't little to us." I think this is great advice. We shouldn't ever tell our students that their problems (however insignificant we may think they are) are no big deal. Instead, we need to empathize with them and help them problem solve when they are going through a rough time.

3/24/2019 2:38 PM

I believe sharing your awkward middle school stories with your students will create a sense of commonality. Experiencing awkwardness is completely normal during middle school and students should know they're not alone.

5/4/2019 10:25 PM

Encouraging adolescents to embrace their feelings and their "awkwardness" is so important. They are allowed to feel however they want, and they must know that they will always be accepted for who they are! I love this post. It's crucial that we embrace our students for everything they are.

5/1/2019 12:29 AM

One of the main reasons that I want to become a middle level educator is to help kids through the "awkward" time in their life. In the classroom, I purposefully point out my awkwardness so that my students do not feel alone!

5/3/2019 6:23 PM

A big reason I am in school to be a teacher is to help my middle level students through this awkward perio.d My classroom is going to purposely be set up as a safe and accepting place.

5/5/2019 12:25 AM

Middle school is a really awkward time in life because so much is changing within their own bodies, friend groups, and home lives. Our students need to be allowed to have those awkward moments that go along with being a middle schooler, and they need to feel comfortable enough to not feel embarrassed by it. Students show each other grace all the time in that way because every student has to go through this uncomfortable phase.

2/15/2020 11:32 AM

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Amber Chandler

Amber Chandler is an ELA teacher at Frontier Middle School in Hamburg, New York, a recipient of the 2018 AMLE Educator of the Year award, and author of the AMLE/Routledge book The Flexible SEL Classroom. In this blog, Amber examines milestones that make teaching in the middle a truly unique experience, and shares ideas from middle level educators that ensure we reach every student, no matter what it takes. < blog home