When I was first told that I would be given the opportunity to teach seventh grade students this year, my initial reaction was utter shock and dismay. I had known from the moment I applied to be an ACE Teacher that I never wanted to teach middle school, and I was content with my eleventh and twelfth graders last year.
Yet, a week before the first day of school, I had no choice but to accept that this year, I'd be teaching fifty-seven seventh grade students.
The first month of this school year seemed as if it was my first month of teaching—ever. I struggled with the transition between teaching eleventh grade English and teaching seventh grade literature. I couldn't remember my seventh graders' names because I saw them every other day. Giving directions consumed half of my class time—I never accounted for the number of questions young middle school students would ask. I felt a perpetual nervous feeling in my stomach as I prepared to teach my seventh graders.
But, somewhere between late August and early October, I fell in love with each and every one of them. While I had struggled all of last year to rid my eleventh graders of their jaded spirits, I suddenly found myself in front of fifty-seven eager, energized, and innocent seventh grade students.
Sure, Jose raised his hand in the middle of my lesson and said, "Ms. Ramos you don't have an earring!" and, after I grabbed my ear, responded "You have two!" Yes, Miguel only volunteered to read if he could do it in his Mickey Mouse voice. And, still, Robert told the other students to "shut up" when talking during my lesson. But, when I looked upon these moments with love, patience, and a few more hours of sleep, I had no choice but to smile.
In a new light, Christ made himself known to me through this particular group of students. Here are just a few of the many moments that I saw Christ in my 7th grade students:
- When reading The Outsiders, my students asked me if I was ever bullied like Ponyboy was by the Socs. I felt comfortable sharing with them that the most studious student is not always the most popular person in the classroom. Immediately, Miguel raised his hand and I was naturally caught off guard when he asked me, "But, where are those students now, Ms. Ramos? You went to Notre Dame. You're here teaching us at Saint Joe. Can they say that?"
- When interviewing a few of my 7th grade girls for a video for our school's Week of the Woman, they advised all of the high school girls not to forget who they were before all of the pressures of boys and school. They told them that they had the opportunities to do great things so they shouldn't waste those opportunities simply for the sake of boys.
- A student realized that he had forgotten to answer the questions on the back of his homework sheet. He came up to me, tears already forming in his eyes. I told him everything would be okay, and he responded, "But, Ms. Ramos, I tried so hard. I try hard every time and my grades never show it. Now, it's going to be another bad grade." I asked him to trust me, and he has ever since.
- When reading The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, I asked my students if they could relate to Bruno when he was forced to move from his home in Berlin. Many of my students raised their hand and shared their stories of when they were forced to leave their homes in Mexico because of all of the violence. So, every day without fail, my students pray for peace in Mexico. They ask that God protect their families and their homes that they left behind.
I so often associate Christ with his love and his painful sacrifice for all of us that I forget to revel in His moments of joy, playfulness, and youth. This year, I finally realized that Christ was once a young teenager as well. He was not born a fully grown man; He grew in stages. Once I could understand that, I was able to see Him in my seventh graders too.