Middle school almost ate me alive.
But don’t you worry—I made it out just fine. But it was close.
I would like to tell you of a man that made THE difference for me during those difficult years. He was my guidance counselor. I honestly can’t remember his name but I remember his big mustache and his bigger laugh.
I remember the first time I came into his office during my 6th grade year. I was very nervous, almost scared to go talk to this stranger. Was he going to ask me crazy questions? What if I didn’t know the answer? Would I get in trouble if I told the truth? What would happen if I didn’t?
I was glad to have another adult listen to what was going on. I was having real trouble with a bully and with a particular teacher that enjoyed blaming every noise in class on me. Not that I didn’t cause some of that noise, but everything? No way.
As I as in his office chair that first time he didn’t ask any real questions or even my name. He told me a joke. I don’t remember the joke but it was dumb and it was funny. I was so caught off guard that I laughed until I almost peed my pants. From that moment forward I had no problem trusting my counselor.
He would come pull me out of class on a certain day at any given moment. I’ll be honest, I felt really cool having him come get me like that. We would walk down the hall goofing off, making fun of other teachers and the poor chumps still in the classrooms, this tall mustached man and this little big-eared boy laughing like they had known each other for years.
With each passing session I learned that I was worth listening to. I learned that I could stand up to bullies and that I could try and change that teacher’s perception of me. As the year progressed he taught me a lot about middle school and even more about life.
If he’s still around somewhere I would guess that he wouldn't remember me at all. I was just one of thousands of kids that must have passed through his office doors over the years. But it never felt like that while we were together talking.
So for all of you middle school parents let me give you just a few Jr. High life lessons that he shared with me.
Just because you’re scared doesn’t mean you’re not brave
I was terrified of that stinkin’ bully! He was so much bigger and meaner than anyone I’d ever come across. I didn’t know how to handle that sort of aggression.
I mean what was I to do? He would pummel me! But my counselor clued me into to something I had never thought of. Just because I was scared didn’t mean that I had to run.
Hmm. I had never thought of that. I got scared so I ran. Seemed natural to me. So I thought about it and I took him up on his words. The next time that bully started pushing me around in lunch I acted like I was furious! I spun around so fast and started screaming and yelling at him. I’m sure it was just gibberish flying out of my mouth but the look on that kid’s face was awesome! He looked at me like he had just cornered the honey badger!
I knew then that just because I was scared of something, that didn’t mean it had to defeat me , and often times, it made the victory that much sweeter.
I can change
I love to talk to people. All kinds of people. Doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, I’ll talk to you. I’m very social and that has always been the case. But when I was a kid, it was the ladies that got most of my attention.
And I frequently got into trouble because of that. Thus the problem with the teacher who thought I made all the noises in class.
My counselor talked to me, repeatedly, about changing my patterns and behaviors. He encouraged me to focus when it was time to focus and goof off when it was time to goof off and to recognize the difference between the two. He even went so far as to role play school scenarios with me. They were always so far in left field and I normally ended up laughing at the situations but I always remembered what we talked about.
So I set out to change. I stopped talking, as much, in class and started to buckle down. I would pay attention and take notes to help me focus on the lesson at hand. Oh, every now and then I would slip up but I was doing so much better than I used to.
I was really proud that I had set out to change a behavior that was obviously holding me back and that I had done it! I realized that I could change, that I could grow into a better person, that I could be a little more mature and still have fun.
But that teacher never recognized that change. Every time something went wrong or someone was talking he would automatically say my name. More than a few times I got in trouble for things nowhere near me. He never saw the change in me and I was more than frustrated.
And because of that I learned one of my most valuable middle school counselor life lessons.
Sometimes, you just can’t win
Up until that point I had always gotten along with my teachers. They all knew I talked too much but we always had fun! This guy was the first to just not like me.
No matter what I did through my sixth grade year, I could not change his opinion of me. And it really bothered me. What didn’t this guy like me?!?
More than that, I was doing really badly in his class. And no matter what I did it never got better.
I’m not saying that this teacher was cheating me, but I will say that after I was transferred out of his class I no longer had grade problems that year. My GPA increased dramatically and rapidly.
And therein lies that last lesson: Sometimes, no matter what you do, you just can’t win!
But there’s freedom in that. If you look closely you’ll see that there are people that just won’t like you. And it’ll never change, even if you do.
Once we talked about that and really dug into what that meant, I realized that I didn’t have to change for that teacher, I had to change for me. And if that teacher couldn’t see that change or accept it, the fault lay with him and not me. I was then freed to live my life according to my beliefs and values and not based on what other’s opinion were of me!
He was an amazing counselor. He completely transformed my 6th grade year and ultimately middle school. He pointed me in a direction that allowed me to be successful in life and let me go to it. I didn’t see him again after that year, and he eventually moved to another school district. I went on to high school, college, and then adulthood. But every now and then, I’ll remember that big ol’ mustache and that huge laugh and I’ll say a prayer of thanks for a man that took the time to listen to a little big-eared boy.