As I told you a few posts back, I was a middle school monitor for three weeks at a private bilingual school in Lyon.
Being a Middle School Monitor is the funniest, most interesting, yet tiring job to do as a 20 year old woman. However, not only has it given me more experience with kids and teaching (I gave an English class to 7th grade group), I have also changed my perspective on pre-teens.
I define pre-teens as 10 – 15 year olds. The boys’ voices are changing, they start to smell, they grow random untamed hairs on their chin and upper lip and call them facial hair. The girls are moody, sassy, hypocritical, rude, sarcastic and very annoying.
A Middle School monitor (in French, surveillant) is someone who is in charge of middle school students when they are not in class. We have to make sure that the kids are in study hall, actually studying and doing their homework. We have to make sure they’re not smoking and using their cellphones in the bathrooms. We have to make sure that they aren’t sneaking out of school. We have to make sure that they go to class when the bell rings. We have to make sure that the older kids aren’t beating up the younger kids. We have to make sure that the future-will-break-up couples aren’t slobbering over each other during recess.
Most of my co-workers were pretty nice. They were much older, though they considered me to be on the same level. Being only a few years older than the highschoolers, they made sure that I was only in charge of Middle School and sometimes Elementary School. However, this one woman, whom we’ll call Samantha, was a total witch to these students. If they were in her way, she’d punish them. If they were playing too close to her, she’d give them detention. When it was raining, she’d lock them outside. When they were crying, she’d punish them. When they didn’t say hello, she’d punish them.
When I got to that school, I was horrified by the way those kids were afraid of everyone. I decided that I wanted to be different. This was going to be quite a tricky task because when it comes to pre-teens, if you’re too nice, they cross the line of respect.
First of all, I decided not to tell them I was 20 until one of my co-workers did.
Secondly, I abided by all the school rules and regulations and made up my own. For example, if I see their phone, I will not take it away (because I think that’s the most useless rule in school history), but they have to put it away. When they’re bored, and they have no classes left, they’re allowed to use their iPods (because doesn’t kill anyone, especially if you have headphones in).
Thirdly, and most importantly, I listened. And I think that’s the key to understanding pre-teens. Every little problem of theirs, I made my own. I tried to find solutions to their issues, and help them in any way possible.
For example, a few kids would start crying in study hall, for what seemed like no reason at all. I would take them out of the study hall (most of them were reluctant to follow me outside; they didn’t want their classmates to make fun of them) and I’d dedicate about 15 minutes to listen to them.
I came across kids whose parents were never home because of work, and their children were tired of it. One girl’s parents just got divorced and was trying to understand how she was going to love both of her parents equally if they hated each other. Another boy’s father just had his legs amputated and the boy’s classmates were making fun of the man’s handicap.
I came across a sixth grader who called one of her childhood friends a ‘b*tch’ because she stole her boyfriend. I went to the said boy and took him aside. “Do you know that you are the reason why two best friends have broken up?” The boy laughed and said, “No.” I told him, “Apologize for being so good looking.” Then I went to the best friends, and told them, “I can guarantee you that you will not be dating this boy by this summer. Get over him, and get over your problems.” The girls looked at each other, and realized how stupid their argument was, and ran off to play.
Normally, I would yell, “WHY DO YOU HAVE A BOYFRIEND, YOU’RE ONLY 11 YEARS OLD?! HOW DO YOU KNOW THE WORD ‘B*TCH’ ?!” But I decided to calm down and not say anything because honestly, I’ve learned that pre-teens do not need to hear those things.
Another kid was being bullied and I couldn’t understand why. He had everything, he was good looking, dressed well, was kind to his classmates, but people were calling him names. One day, he took me aside, and told me that he was gay. This is the first time that anyone has ‘come out’ to me, but I’ve realized that being bullied for something like that, at such a young age must be one of the worst things to happen to you in Middle School.
Two other kids were constantly being punished by Samantha for making noise in study hall. However, I realized that they were not just ‘making noise’, they were beat boxing. They were some of the best beat boxers I have ever heard, and I don’t even like beat boxing.
Even though my co-workers thought that I wouldn’t be able to handle it, the older kids were the best behaved students. They would bring me chocolate, compliment my outfit, ask me advice and listen to what I had to say.
There are many more anecdotes I can think of that I just don’t have the time to write down. But I will say something that these middle schoolers have taught me: Pre-teens are half-children, half adults. They are confused, and can be quite annoying. They are expected to think like adults, but behave like children. However, they appreciate and respond positively to the adults that show that they care the most.
In French schools, especially in France, teachers and the rest of the staff are very distant and strict with students. Students are last names and grades to them. I don’t mean to brag, but I wish some of my middle school/high school teachers took the time to listen to what I had to say.
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31 (NIV Bible)