Middle School is a hard time. I would know... I went to three different ones, and none of it was easy. I think that's why I find it most impressive when a middle schooler does something of character. I think it takes extra strength to push past all of the hormones, self-discovery, and outside forces to shine through by doing something Good. I want to take a moment to praise two young men who pushed through all of that on the last day before a long weekend. These might not be impressive at first, but mull them over; I think you'll see what I mean.
The first is the less obvious example. It requires a quick culture lesson, though. One of the things that blows my mind in Korea is the relative lack of supervision the kids have here (ok, in my mind, it's more like an absolute lack of supervision). They're allowed to do whatever they want, which usually means they're running around, screaming in the halls, and beating on each other. This stops anywhere between 5-10 minutes after the bell rings to start class and is picked up again the moment class is over, although it often occurs more quietly during classes as well. I know. It's not at all what you pictured of Korean schools, but I assure you it's true. Knowing that, it may be less surprising to you that I had noticed a slap fight starting in the back of my classroom, but ignored it in favor of finishing setting up. I normally break those up pretty early in an effort to maintain a semi-Western-style classroom (in the name of culture lessons - not comfort, of course...), but not last Thursday. Well, when I looked up again, something felt not quite right about it, but, by the time I processed what it was, it was too late. The slaps had been getting harder, until one boy started punching the other in the face. I could hear the impacts from the front of the room. I kicked my shoes off and ran to the back of the room, bellowing "YAH!" before I grabbed the hitter from behind in a sort of bear hug, pinning his arms to his side. The impressive part was that, instead of struggling against me, letting his adrenaline push him forward and out of my grasp (which would have been easy, as he's roughly a head taller than me), he went limp in my arms. We both stood there, breathing heavily for about 30 seconds before I heard him say,
"Teacher, no fight."
"Yeah, I know 'No fight.' That's exactly right." I didn't let him go. I didn't trust him.
"No, teacher. No fight."
"Okay..." I said, slowly loosening my grip, waiting to see his next move. I backed up, and still he stayed where he was. He turned to meet my eyes.
I was proud of him, even in that moment. I directed him and the other boy to sit at opposing sides of the back of my room, while sending another to go get a Korean teacher who I knew would be fair and would get to the bottom of what had happened. The hitter was normally pretty quiet, while the hittee is pretty wide open and has a tendency to speak his mind, so I figure there's a decent chance that the hitter was provoked... not that that justifies rearranging someone's face, but it does justify further investigation.
Even in this moment, I glow with pride at the amazing amount of self-control this kid showed as soon as I got involved. I don't like the situation, but I do like his actions once within it.
The second young man I want to lift up is more classic in the category of praise. After school on Thursday, I prayed that G-d would provide me with some kids to take next door to the grilled cheese shop and buy a snack. Well, He's generally more than happy to answer that prayer. As I came out of the door of the school, there were about 8 kids sitting on the ground, waiting around for an after-school class. I talked to them a little bit, mostly about their love lives. One girl had just broken up with her boyfriend; one girl was yelling up to a third floor window to talk with her "husband;" one boy was gushing to me about how pretty his girlfriend was; one girl wanted to tell me about how she was chatting on an instant messaging service with her boyfriend. All in all, I felt pretty honored to have them let me into their world. The trick is that most of it was being relayed by the one boy who felt comfortable using English. They all wanted to talk to me and I to them, but we needed a translator, and he was fully willing to help - never a sigh, never an eye rolled, breaking off mid-conversation when someone beckoned. What's more, at the sandwich shop, he made a point of making sure the girls all got their food first, saying "Ladies first," when I looked at him in surprise. You don't see that much anymore, but it was really nice.
And that, my friends, is me publicly praising two of my many amazing young people at my school. Or, as my friends at Blimey Cow would say, "That is me supporting my local chivalry."