Oh I’m just kidding! He knows I’m just kidding, he says, turning to the boy, right?
It almost doesn’t matter what just came out of this boy’s mouth, this is generally the first line of defense: I’m just kidding, as if all is made well, the classroom soothed, the world set right as long as those words are uttered.
The 7th and 8th graders that I teach are, developmentally, beginning to explore the world on their own for the first time as young adults, and are looking for what power they have or can take. They often push the teachers to see what they can get away with, and more often, they push each other around as they barter in personal power and reassess the social hierarchies.
If not checked at 13 and 14, unfortunately, these power struggles become ingrained and will need to be fed in increasingly unhealthy ways. For some of these middle schoolers, I am already wary of their eventual partners, fearful for the treatment they may receive in the search for power over others.
Middle School is at least as much about teaching social skills and healthy ways of interacting with the world as it is about any specific content students walk away with.