If Only You Knew, Part 1

Authored by Hannah Williams-Inman

As teachers, we’ve probably all had moments where students were just maybe a little too honest with us. Maybe it’s our “course evaluation” survey, and the teenagers see it as an opportunity to air their grievances, or maybe it’s when we found out that Sally’s “mommy said a no-no word,” and straight from Sally’s mouth, no less! Sometimes, I long for the day that the adolescent filter (if we can even call it that) falls into place, and they realize that they don’t have to share everything that pops into their head. But sometimes, I find myself wishing I could peek into their brains, just for a second.

As a middle school teacher, I am aware that students, particularly in the 7th and 8th grades, are maybe living the hardest years of their lives. Everything is changing, everything is weird, they’re always hungry, and nothing seems to be easy. I’m aware of this on our best days, when we make inside jokes and giggle together, and on our worst days, when they give me the “lights on, nobody’s home,” stare as I ask why they haven’t turned in any of their assignments. Particularly now, it seems that students are retreating into themselves, and are having a hard time communicating with people not through a screen – in fact, some would actually prefer if they could TEXT their way out of having a real conversation with an adult! Some of them think even an EMAIL is too much! 

This may seem wild to you, but for me, as a 27 year-old baby-adult, I kind of get it… I’m not exactly jumping at the chance to make a phone call and schedule an appointment, honestly. All of this got me to thinking; what would the students tell us if they didn’t have this fear of conversation, fear of confrontation, and fear that they may somehow suffer for sharing their thoughts? What do they wish we knew?

Now, obviously, these are teenagers. I’m going to share their messages within the context that we sometimes need to filter this stuff out. They can be emotional, stressed, and say things they don’t mean (which we totally can’t relate to, as adults), so bearing that in mind, I asked a few lucky kiddos, “What do you wish you could tell your teachers?”

To start us off strong, in an absolutely BRUTAL response from an upper schooler, this student wishes we knew that we aren’t as funny as we think we are. I beg to differ.

A few middle school students wished that we understood that they have more going on at home than we may know about. I think their teachers wish they had this inside info, too! One of the students actually gave the example, “Well, I didn’t do my homework, because my dog died.” Oof! I got to have a nice chat with this group, and shared that there are things we don’t know because we can’t read their minds… we wondered what it would look like for them to actually go to their teachers with things like this, openly, rather than hope that their teachers somehow discover it. It was a nice picture.

Finally, another student wanted us to understand that each of our classes isn’t their only class. They feel like they’re juggling so many plates, and that they are still figuring out how to keep them all spinning. They wanted to share that, although each of their classes is uniquely important, there’s more than one important class on their course load. To me, this sounds like a classic thing to hear from any student who could maybe stand to improve their organizational skills (this student in particular is highly organized and high achieving, so there’s that). Rather than discount it entirely, I found myself trying to consider their perspective, and feel some compassion toward this teenager doing their best. Of course, ultimately they need to turn in their work and study for their tests, and that’s not going to change, but is there room for us to acknowledge just how much we ask of them?

For me, the kids are the best part of this job! Getting to hear things like this is helpful to me as I form relationships with them, and I hope it’s the same for you. Hopefully, as I share these things through the filter of my brain, this column can help us all to learn something new about our students, and maybe, in my conversations with the kids themselves, I can try to (possibly? sometimes? if I’m lucky?) encourage them to be better students in the long run… but we’ll see how all of that goes.

I wonder what we’ll learn next time… if only you knew.

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