Blog: Milestones


8 Oct 2019


Want to know awkward? Sitting in a circle of teenagers, asking them to pass a "talking piece" around while they share their thoughts upon completing their first full week of school. I went first to model what one might say in this loud silence. "Well, I'm new to the building too, so I'm feeling pretty nervous that I'm going to make a mistake. I don't know where things are, so I feel like I look lost. I definitely feel like everyone is noticing me because I am new, which I'd rather not happen." I had explained to these students—some who were friends, many who were not, and a few who really don't care for each other at all—that we'd need to trust one another to maintain confidence if this plan to be a support for one another was going to work.

The REACH Alternative Learning Community that is being piloted at my high school includes a REACH period where I lead students through a circle each day, help them organize to go home, and offer a listening ear as they debrief their days. The circles have been going pretty well, growing less and less weird. I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about the vulnerability that I'm asking these students to have, and I've realized that it is perhaps the single most complicated dilemma in education. Hear me out.

When students don't know how to do things, there aren't good structures in place to allow them to get help. Think about it. How many times have you asked, "Does everyone understand? Any questions?" I've done this. I do this. I'm trying to stop. Why? Because I'm coming to realize that we ask students to do what is fundamentally impossible for vulnerable children: admit, in front of their peers, that they are "other."

We are, by asking them this type of question, expecting them to shed their self-consciousness, their self-doubt, and their armor and ask for help. Unless we deliberately create safe spaces where we model vulnerability and provide an actual community for students, we are never going to see students ask for help amongst the judgmental adolescents around them.

If, on the other hand, we create communities where students know each other, support each other, and value risk-taking without fear of failure, then we just might overcome this dilemma.

Have you ever asked a student, "How are you?" and they respond, "Crappy" or "Awful"? Did you offer a platitude like, "That's too bad" or "Sorry to hear that" or "Tomorrow will be better"? I have. I do. But, I'm trying to stop. If we ask the question, we need to be honored when students open the door for us to find out what is really going on with them, but most of the time, for a wide variety of legitimate reasons, we don't really take their invitation.

If, on the other hand, we were to ask a follow-up question, offer the student a chance to talk with a counselor, or simply listen to them, relationships will develop that allow us to become that caring adult who can impact the course of their lives.

But it's awkward. The fact is, as adults, we aren't very good at being vulnerable either. I don't know about you, but I've sure as heck acted like I knew what was going on (just this past week, in fact) when I definitely didn't. I've responded to someone asking how I am with "Not so great, actually," hoping that they might inquire just a little bit so I could unburden myself, and when they say, "Join the crowd" or "TGIF" instead of saying, "Oh no. What's going on?" I'm disappointed.

As adults who can have such an influence on children, and indeed do have that impact whether we are intentional or not, we have an amazing opportunity to model the vulnerability that will make us better communities. But wow, it is awkward. How do you forge relationships with students and encourage community, especially with those who aren't as willing? Share your thoughts in the comments, follow me on Twitter (@MsAmberChandler) and use #AMLE. Hint: this is another way to practice intentional vulnerability!

Conference Nerd

26 Aug 2019

Conference Nerd

I'm a big planner, so changing what I was intent on writing about for this edition of "Milestones" is a bit surprising. However, if I've learned one thing over the years of being a writer, if you aren't feeling it, don't write it!

Instead, I've found myself preoccupied with thinking about AMLE in Nashville this fall ... I'm dreaming of my next "vacation" since I did summer school this year. This is my fifth year attending the annual AMLE conference, and I'm just as excited as the very first time. I'm looking forward to so many things, but I wanted to take a moment to share some of the "conference insider" tips that I've learned over the years!

Tip #1: Talk to the presenters

When I love a session, I make sure to introduce myself to the presenter and share my impressions of the session. As a presenter myself, I know it is great to get that honest, instant feedback, but it's also a great way to meet passionate educators like yourself. Several years ago I met Katie Powell, author of the brand new book Boredom Busters, after attending one of her sessions. Check out her website,, to find out more, and watch "Hungry Hippos for Back to School" to see how she engages students. She'll be presenting at #AMLE19 in Nashville, so stop by to learn from her. I've met Rick Wormeli, Rosalind Wiseman, and other #EduHeroes just by introducing myself.

Tip #2: Get social

Of course, when you're at a conference you should meet new people, socialize, and have fun. However, when I say "get social," I mean to take to social media and follow all the educators you meet and whose sessions you attend. Think about it this way: if you love the session or had a great conversation, social media is the way to keep the conversation going. We could all use a little more positive in our lives, right? Teaching can be an alienating experience, and it is crucial to put ourselves out there, sharing our own narrative, but it's also important to continue the learning. Here's a list of just some of the educators I've met at AMLE. You should follow them too, and you'll find them at #AMLE19:

Katie Powell: @Beyond_the_Desk
Todd Bloch: @blocht574
LaVonna Roth: @LaVonnaRoth
Jessica Lahey: @jesslahey
Dr. Debbie Silver: @DrDebbieSilver

Make sure you follow the presenters, but also walk right over to the table of people you don't know, and strike up conversation, even if it's awkward. We're used to awkward, right? We teach middle school! The connections you will make are worth it, and you'll keep learning long after you've left Nashville.

Tip #3: Enjoy the venue

I'm a conference nerd. I'll admit it. I've been to conferences where I literally didn't step outside of the hotel the entire time I was there--including last year's AMLE conference in Florida. The venue was so out-of-my-element that I spent my time wandering around inside. It looks like I'm outside in these pictures, but that's just the Gaylord Palms Resort and Conference Center. This year's conference is at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, and I'm sure that even if I keep to my conference nerd trend, I'll be happy. It's not every day that I have the chance to stay at a luxury hotel, so that just might be enough for me. Let me know what it's like in the outside world!

Happy New School Year everyone. I look forward to seeing you in Nashville and on Twitter. Please come see my session, "Integrating Art to Activate the Magic Molecule," and say hi! (You can read about it here). Next month, let's explore this question: "How do you develop relationships with students and their families?" Look to participate in the conversation on Twitter (@MsAmberChandler) and Facebook (look for "The Flexible Classroom").

Who Are You Reading?

1 Aug 2019

Who Are You Reading?

As an English teacher, I tend to have imaginative relationships with authors. I dream up cross country road trips with some, dinner conversations with others, and my son's middle name is Holden, borrowed from our "long lost Uncle Salinger." Instead of asking you what you're reading, I'm liable to ask who you're reading. In this blog, I'm going to share who I've been reading—or in all three cases, listening to. Then, I'd love for you to answer these questions across social media platforms when you see them. Use the #AMLE and make sure you ask your friends too!

Author I'd love to go on a cross-country road trip with:
When I was 22, I took a cross-country road trip, and just like the good cliche that college students can sometimes be, I read Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac and carried my beat up copy of Leaves of Grass with me like a security blanket. My backpack screamed "English Major," and when I returned from Seattle, I brandished an ankle tattoo to solidify my rebelliousness. It was the mid-90s and this was what life was all about.

When I reflect how different the world was two decades ago, I'm amazed at how alone I was on that trip. There was no social media. There was no crowd of followers watching my every move. In fact, I don't have a single picture from that journey, but it is one of the most significant events of my life, and I am so pleased that it will always be just mine.

Given my brink-of-existential-crisis trying to reconcile the Amber-of-then with the Amber-of-now, I'd certainly want to re-read my old faves, but if I were taking an actual author with me, it would be with Hank Green, the author of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. I just listened to it in two days, unable to stop myself from slowly enjoying the book. Hank Green is an American video blogger turned author, and I loved this book for its philosophically meta look at the impact of social media on our current psyche.

My favorite quote from the book, and why it would take an entire cross-country road trip to discuss: "I'd heard all this before, but I also knew that this line of argument worked. If you tell people that they're being attacked for their beliefs, then suddenly they want to defend their beliefs, even if they didn't really believe them before. It's pretty amazing, really."

Author I'd love to have dinner with:
Audiobooks read by the author are my favorite. Perhaps it is simply my desire to live vicariously, but it is just so cool to me to hear an author intonate his words just as they should be. Bob Goff, author of the best-selling book Love, Does and the even more radically positive Everybody, Always, has a voice that smiles. He calls his wife Sweet Maria, so I'd invite her too. I am astounded by his straight up rebellious love. He says, in his smiling and joyful voice, "We don't need to spend as much time as we do telling people what we think about what they're doing. Loving people doesn't mean we need to control their conduct. There's a big difference between the two. Loving people means caring without an agenda. As soon as we have an agenda, it's not love anymore." I don't know about you, but I can always use a dose of radical positivity!

Author I'd love to have as a distant relative:
I listen to audiobooks with my son as he goes to sleep, and we are hooked on The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch. Our family would enjoy an uncle with this wisdom: "USE COMMON SENSE. If somebody offers you a thousand dollars for this book, chances are their motives are not pure. Then again, a thousand dollars is a lot of money. Take the money and run." A guy like this would always make family gatherings eventful, and anyone with a good nickname always sparks my interest, and a clever one like "Pseudonymous" is fabulous.

I hope this blog has given you a few ideas to round out your summer reading. Let's keep the suggestions coming! Follow me @MsAmberChandler and use #AMLE to join our cross-platform conversation.

We Journey Together

11 Jul 2019

We Journey Together

So, here's the thing. I love the idea of an ongoing conversation with teachers across all sorts of platforms. I love that my network of educator friends spans those who are still getting their certification, some who are in their first few years, others who are in the thick of their career like me (just finished 21 years!), and those who are just retiring.

This blog about what teachers want to remember from this past school year highlights how very diverse our experiences are yet reminds us that we are all in this very important journey together. It comes down to this: we love our students, each other, and the amazing sense of purpose we are lucky enough to share.

Our Kiddos

Heidi was my son's fifth grade teacher, and she's my elementary teacher soul-sister. Case in point: She had received a thank you note from an eighth grader, texted me to find out who I thought would know the girl so she could write her a thank you note back, only to find out that the thank you project was from my class! Only a teacher would write a thank you note to a student for writing us a thank you note.

I love this next response for what she says, but even more so because of how I "know" Michelle. Michelle is a colleague of one of my former students, Holly, who grew up to be a math teacher. Holly introduced us, and now Michelle is joining my summer school staff! Keep reading for Holly's answer to this question.

This is my principal riding the infamously steep roller coaster at Darien Lake. I love that she wanted to ride with him, and it is awesome that I have a leader who recognizes the value of an entire eighth grade field trip for students and teachers!

Our Friendships

Not every year is easy, and we all experience personal and professional hardships through the years, but it was immediately obvious from all the responses that we take care of each other. Shannon says it best below when she says "work family."

Jordan isn't a new teacher but taking on a brand new job can be daunting. It is always the people we work with that can make all the difference. If you think of the hundreds of unwritten rules teachers find upon their arrival in a new building, it is crucial to find our tribe.

Lori retired this year, and it is at those times of reflection that we remember how important we are to each other. This is so important for us to remember all the time, not just when we get to start sleeping in and going to the bathroom whenever we want!

Lisa is switching buildings, and when you leave your "roommate" it can certainly feel like moving out of our home. I love that Lisa talks about growing into who she is as a teacher. We're all on a journey and recognizing that is a part of what makes this a special profession.

Our Sense of Purpose

Denise retired this year, and her words of wisdom resonate with all of us. I love that our profession has such a clear "why" to it, and I feel incredibly privileged to know that I make a difference. Those of us who haven't had other jobs often forget that lots of other people go to work simply to pay the bills. It makes me thrilled to have chosen so well!

Not only are we champions, but I love the recognition that we have social and emotional responsibilities to the humans left in our care. I won't take credit for Holly's words, even though I was her fabulous eighth grade teacher, but I wholeheartedly agree.

Finally, I loved that Lori realizes that our students come to us with so much baggage that it is a wonder they make it to us at all. It is sometimes easy to forget with all our mandates, testing requirements, and curriculum to cover, but we have a calling, and that is to be the person a child comes to school to see.

This was such a fun way to see what other educators had to say as they reflected on the past year. I hope you enjoyed their responses as much as I did. The insights here are plenty to shore us up for summer. Follow me @MsAmberChandler and use #AMLE to join our cross-platform conversation. Also, subscribe to this blog to stay up to date on the topics we're discussing. The question this month is: How are you growing professionally this summer? Who are you reading? Where are you traveling? How are you relaxing? Thanks for your contributions!

What Do You Need to Remember for Next Year?

25 Jun 2019

What Do You Need to Remember for Next Year?

Some of you have already finished your school year, so feel free to get all reflective by the pool. Others of us, however, are still finishing up with final exams, packing rooms, submitting grades, and all the other end of the year chaos. For those of you at home—enjoy. For the rest of us—hang tight, we'll be missing these kiddos in a few short weeks!

I'm going to take the opportunity right now to give myself some advice for next year. Every year, at some point, if you are anything like me, you've muttered, "Remind me next year..." followed by something really obvious, like, "Don't give a quiz the day before Thanksgiving Break" or "Remember that it is a notable truth that eighth graders cannot control their impulses and use their phones for a review game without Snapchatting." In hopes that my "remembers" might be more useful, here are three:

  1. Remember, everything takes at least one day—usually two days—more than I plan to do any unit. There's a random snow day, the Monday that I forgot is a holiday and is actually not a teaching day, and of course my own sniffly sneezing kiddos who need me to stay home at some point. If, by some miracle, we finish the entire unit early, there's this amazing new invention called Netflix.
  2. Remember, cringy, silly, and musically embarrassing songs and mnemonics will help students learn. Loosen up. Lots of fabulous teachers sing. Come on. Take a risk Amber. Here are some amazing examples to inspire you. This is great for ENL, this is great for math. and this one for a tour of the states for social studies. Every year I hope I'll do this, but I don't.
  3. Think of a good Halloween costume. Start thinking now. This can be really stressful. Two kids who need creative costumes of their own, 120 students who will judge you (they can't help it), and the pressure is too much. Seriously, remember this one early. Like starting right after the 4th of July. (Minion, as it turns out, is actually pretty great. I might steal the pinball machine idea of my daughter's next year)

These are just a few of the many things I want to remember for next year. There are all kinds of nice, sentimental, and inspiring things too, but did I mention that school's not out yet and things are getting a little harried? Lunches are lacking, I'm wearing jeans by Wednesday, and I seriously spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to sort my students into exam rooms, weighing the merits of "by homeroom" or "by class period," and even entertained, "alphabetically," just to walk on the wild side. If you are curious, "by class period" won. It always does.

My next blog will share some of the gems that you all send to me, and I hope that my thoughts here spark something in you! Follow me @MsAmberChandler and use #AMLE to join our cross-platform conversation. Also, subscribe to this blog to stay up to date on the topics we're discussing. The question this month is: What do you need to remember for next year? Thanks for your contributions!

Published June 2019.

Focusing on #Selfcare

4 Jun 2019

Focusing on #Selfcare

A few weeks ago, I posted across social media about teacher #selfcare habits. Maybe #selfcare is more personal than I expected, or maybe people were just too busy to respond, but I found it interesting that by far the most responses I received to this query across platforms came from my friends, not the typical reactions across my more professional social media like Twitter and LinkedIn.

The #selfcare rituals and pictures I got tell a great story and resonated with me. For example, my friend Shannon, a seventh grade social studies teacher and track coach, posted a quote that spoke to the need to turn our brain off and let go of the stress. The bonus? Healthy lifestyle choices lead to less stress in the first place.

Another friend of mine, Abby, posted pictures of her amazingly photogenic family, and it is clear that spending time with her #MilitelloFunSquad is relaxing, fulfilling, and answers the need for relationships. With three kiddos under six, it is amazing the adventures this family takes. As a mom who has led a similar kid-filled life, I'm reaping the benefits because my 14-year-old still wants to hang out with me. I've been laying that groundwork for years, and I know Abby will too.

On the flipside, my friend Jen practiced #selfcare by relaxing in a space she created just for herself. When we continually give our all to others, it can be hard to carve out space and time for ourselves. Jen has created an awesome corner of the world, replete with an amazing book by Rachel Hollis, her dog, and an aesthetically pleasing place to just relax. I have to admit, this is probably where I'm going next in my #selfcare. I've loved beautifying my back deck, and I aspire to Jen's level!

This need for alone time and space was a thread through so many of the comments. Kathy, whose youngest is an eighth grader and oldest is in college, also spoke to the need for rituals to sustain us. She wrote:

Another friend's #selfcare routine is clearly sacred, and she has set up boundaries and put aside the time for her needs. Lori explains:

All of these women are teachers, all friends of mine, and all at different spots in their career, yet we all need the same things. The theme of space and time that permeated the comments reminded me of my early fascination with Virginia Woolf and this quote:

Perhaps, as teachers, we can adopt this ideal when it comes to #selfcare: we need time, space, and disposable income to meet some of our deepest needs. No wonder I find this so difficult to achieve! #Selfcare requires a level of intentionality and an understanding that when the turbulence hits, we take the advice of the flight attendant and adjust our own masks first, taking care of our own breathing so that we can help others. Thanks for sharing all of these ideas!

Follow me @MsAmberChandler and use #AMLE to join our cross-platform conversation. Also, subscribe to this blog to stay up to date on the topics we're discussing. The question this month is: What do you need to remember for next year? Thanks for your contributions!

Published June 2019.

The Mysterious Thing They Call Self-Care

21 May 2019

The Mysterious Thing They Call Self-Care

I'm a workaholic. I don't mean to be a workaholic, but I'm curious, like to be in charge, and will do anything that I think will help kiddos. This dubious triad of traits creates mad stress in my life, which I mostly thrive on, but on occasion, I look around and ask, "Why am I doing all of this? Who cares?" In the midst of my mini-existential crisis, someone inevitably says, "You just need to practice better self-care." Educator friends, I'm sure you aren't surprised that these moments typically happen in May. And, always June.

The mysterious thing they call "self-care" takes many forms, and it is definitely unique to the individual. One such well-meaning practitioner of self-care suggested that I go for a jog. This would require many things that are not readily available to me in May or June: acceptable attire for such a venture, a thousand dollars at the end of the jog, and energy. Nope. That one is not for me. However, we all know the benefits of exercise and the relaxation it can bring. If that's your thing.

Another mysterious self-care tip was, a la Parks and Recreation, to "treat yourself!" This, I can do. I'm in love with thrift stores, and I could get lost browsing for the perfect item. I collect owls, especially the kinds that look like they belong in a 1970s kitchen, so careful exploring is required. I adore the cute one I found in the earlier part of May (the one in the middle). There is something deeply satisfying to me to recycle or reclaim something and give it a place in my life. This is, ultimately, why I have lots of strange odds and ends in my house! I have a feeling I'll be out on the hunt again soon.

This month let's meet up on Twitter to talk about the mysterious thing they call self-care. I'm so excited to hear from all of you about what you do to escape and recharge—the more unique the better! As a bonus, in the next blog, I'll share some of the Twitter posts, especially if they have pictures. Follow me @MsAmberChandler and use #AMLE to join our cross-platform conversation. Also, subscribe to this blog to stay up to date on the topics we're discussing. The question this month is: What self-care secrets do you have? Thanks for your contributions!

Published May 2019.

Winding Down

29 Apr 2019

Winding Down

When I was five years old, in order to begin my school career, my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Holloway, had to pry me off my mother's leg and coax me into her classroom with promises of making a necklace out of macaroni. It worked, and for 40 years, I have calibrated my life to the school calendar, never once starting a year without walking into a classroom, either as a student or a teacher. This is about to change, and I'm both excited and petrified. I've taken a position as a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) as the Alternative Learning and Intervention Coordinator. I'll be working with the amazing teachers in my district, collaborating with a guidance counselor whose job has been redefined to work exclusively with these kiddos who need more time and attention, and a principal who is excited to make this happen. The best part is that I will still see students every day, and it is my actual job to figure out ways to make education work for them! However, as I prepared to write this blog, I'm feeling much like my students as the year ends. I teach eighth grade, so they will be leaving the middle school and entering a whole new world as they move on to high school--which is both familiar and completely different. How can we provide closure for our students as the year winds down?

I always try to provide closure for my students, but this year, for obvious reasons, I'm a bit more attuned to the disorientation of change. I've decided to do three things that will help my students (and me) get ready for the summer and the year ahead.

Look Back

So much changes in a school year, and it is often hard to recognize growth. However, in my class we will soon begin Passion Projects, and students will end my class by sharing a 10-minute presentation about something they care deeply about. I snapped tons of pictures as students presented this year—beginning with their one-minute presentation that stressed them all out. I'm going to make sure they remember their former, nervous selves as they now confidently own the podium. I'm in the process of making a video of all the pictures to share with them as a reminder that they have grown into excellent communicators and encourage them to use those skills as they embark on a new journey. I want them to understand that they have developed the skills for this next phase. I want me to understand that I have developed the skills for this next phase.

Give Thanks

It is important to remember who has impacted us along the way. Sometimes, in the midst of living our lives, we don't take the time to tell those who matter the most that we notice the extra effort. I give my students the chance each year to write two thank you notes, one for an elementary teacher or staff member, and one for someone at the middle school. I have my local teacher's center print cards for me to keep the cost down (see image of the card I created at the top of this blog). I put on music, pass out colorful markers, and give students the chance to express gratitude and reflect. I send their cards through interoffice mail, and I love to hear how happy teachers are to get them.

Throughout May and June, every school has those bubbles of time at the end of class or when an exam ends and students need something to do. I'll be leaving a bunch of extra thank you cards in the back of my room for students to grab at their leisure. I want them to practice being thankful for where they're from. I want me to practice being thankful for where I'm from.

Look Ahead

This is the tricky part. I can't exactly tell my students what to expect. I can encourage them to get involved in the many activities that are offered, and I can tell them they will find their place. Most of all, I can let them know that it is ok to be nervous, and it is expected to feel a bit off balance. I can tell them that they have been preparing for this next step all along, and I'll remind them that they are unique and important and will blow their new teachers away. My goal is to help them see their future optimistically by helping them focus on the many opportunities that lie ahead, even if they are a little scared. My goal is to help me see my future optimistically by focusing on the many opportunities that lie ahead, even if I am a little scared.

This month let's meet up on Twitter to talk about how you handle this time of year. What rituals do you have in place to help your students—and you—bring the school year to a meaningful end? Do you have any special projects? Follow me @MsAmberChandler and use #AMLE to join our cross-platform conversation. Also, subscribe to this blog to stay up to date on the topics we're discussing. The question this month is: How can we provide closure for our students as the year winds down? Thanks for your contributions!

Published April 2019.

An Amazing PLN

16 Apr 2019

An Amazing PLN

I've known since I joined Twitter four years ago that the education community, or PLN (professional learning network), is amazing. I don't follow anyone who is not an educator or affiliated with educators, and my main goal when scrolling is to get inspired.

In the last blog, I posed the question, "How can we, as teachers, help middle schoolers navigate the emotional rollercoaster of adolescence?" Wow did @Twitter thought leaders show up with "I got tingles" comments and "I'm not tearing up, you are" feels. I'm going to share several here and propose our next cross-platform conversation.

There were three "threads" that I noticed, knitting together this conversation. First, we have to make space for the social emotional needs of our students in our routines:

Additionally, we must also allow our "normal" routines to be interrupted when "life lessons" happen.

Next, many educators spoke to the need to share our own stories with students and build relationships with them. It can bring out all sorts of feelings of vulnerability. In my class, I never have students do something I'm not willing to. This means we don't do busy work, and it means that if I ask them to share something, I always model that openness. Do I ever feel awkward? You bet. Welcome to middle school! These educators make it clear that relationships matter:

Finally, I was struck by the educators who make a point of "going along for the ride" with their students. Actually showing up and holding space for students who need us is an integral part of the job for many of us:

And, the one that made me tear up because I've had this teacher—and been this teacher because I had a role model of who a teacher can be:

I hope these educators have inspired you as they did me. Crucial to this conversation is the support we receive from each other as we do the difficult work of meeting the social, emotional, and academic needs of our students. Follow #AMLE each month as thoughtful educators engage in conversations that matter. Thanks especially to @teacher2teacher, @sharemylesson, @middleweb, and all the educators who tweeted, shared, and retweeted to keep this dialog going.

For my next blog, I'll be asking: How can we provide closure for our students as the year winds down?

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.

The Ups and Downs

1 Apr 2019

The Ups and Downs

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.


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