A Schoolteacher's Musings · Blog 365

Classroom Secrets #2: Don’t Give Up on the Awkward Kid

I know a lot of people look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them I teach 5th-graders (and also taught 6th-graders for the past two years). They think it’s the worst age, those kids with their attitudes and their pre-teen drama. They think middle-schoolers (and almost middle-schoolers) are scary and weird and hard to deal with.

There was a time when I didn’t think I could possibly work with middle-schoolers. Give me high school, give me the sweet 9- and 10-year olds, but please keep me away from the hormones of the 11 to 14 year olds! Not only that, but middle school tends to lend itself to the most awkward years of one’s life – and awkwardness once scared me to pieces.

But there’s a secret I’ve discovered about this age group in the last two years:

Yes, they’re gangly. Yes, they roll their eyes sometimes. Yes, they try too hard to be funny. Yes, sometimes they don’t talk and just answer in one-syllable words. Yes, they can be moody and emotional.

Yet in spite of all this, these awkward kids are craving someone to believe in them.

They just don’t know how to tell you.

I remember (cringingly) being twelve, thirteen, and fourteen years old. I remember my lack of communication skills wherein I could barely tell you what I was thinking or feeling – but I wrote it all down voraciously and overthought it in great detail.

I remember saving notes I got from Sunday School teachers or teachers or other youth leaders because I valued what they said to me so much – notes that those people probably have long since forgotten about.

I remember being terrified that I would do something socially unacceptable when I first stepped foot into a “real” school and watching the world with wide eyes and a pounding heart – hoping someone would see past my awkwardness and just accept me for who I was.

It’s really hard as a middle schooler to navigate weird emotions with changing friendships and schoolwork and boy drama and parent drama, and most of the time you don’t want to try to explain yourself (or just can’t). You need someone who understands your world and who doesn’t push you away when your awkward shines through.

You need someone who makes you do silly stuff even while you’re rolling your eyes (because you secretly like it but just can’t admit it).

You need someone who takes you seriously and doesn’t talk down to you like the child you hope you aren’t anymore.

You need someone who sees your potential and challenges you to think deeply and talk maturely about real life matters.

You need someone who loves you, who holds you to a high standard, and gives you a lot of grace when you fail. Don’t we all? But the awkward kid needs someone who will do that even when they can’t articulate back how much they appreciate it.

There will be a day when those awkward kids grow out of their awkwardness. And when they look back on people who influenced them, they’ll remember with greatest care those who didn’t give up on them. They’ll remember teachers, mentors, parents, aunts and uncles who knew who they truly were, awkwardness aside, and valued that soul.

Because not giving up on someone means that you believe they can rise above their current circumstances and become something greater. You believe in their potential when they don’t believe in it themselves, and you believe that their awkwardness, just like your own, is just a phase that they will one day move past.

I was that awkward kid. And I had people who didn’t give up on me despite my weird bangs, my tendency to wear costumes to church, my quietness in group settings, my longing to be outgoing and fun curbed by my fear of what others thought of me, and my lack of all athletic ability.

Those people hold a special place in my heart, and it’s because of them that I know how to love the awkward kids.

Once you overlook the shyness and the awkwardness and start having conversations with them, all that kind of fades away, and you discover what was there all along – a beautiful soul just aching to be found and listened to.

And when you pause to listen, you just might see yourself staring back at you. And you’ll remember why they need you so much – to someday get to where you are now – not perfect, but given confidence and poise by those who never gave up on you.

Image from unsplash.com.

One thought on “Classroom Secrets #2: Don’t Give Up on the Awkward Kid

  1. Lydia, I just read this after a tough day teaching these awkward, strange, and sweet middle school students. Such a wonderful reminder to me to love them as Christ loves me – unconditionally… And even when I fail to thank Him!


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