Posts Tagged 'middle school'

The Importance of Counselors

counselor-1294858_960_720By Sabrina Bartels

Last week, I had the honor of participating in a panel discussion focused on youth mental health. The event was a collaboration between several organizations, including Marquette Law School, Marquette’s College of Education, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Individuals from across the country and from many different walks of life joined together to talk about the mental health crisis and what we can do to help support children and teens as they navigate these difficult struggles.

Of all the panels, I really liked the one where teens talked about overcoming and living with mental health concerns. One of the girls was a middle school student. When describing her middle school experience, she mentioned that she sometimes goes to her school counselor, but that it’s hard to see her because she’s so busy. The student said that her counselor’s door is closed a lot because she’s with other students, or “in a six-hour meeting.” It made me crack up (because it’s true, we have a lot of meetings!) but it also made me a little sad. Here was a student who really needed to see someone, but her counselor wasn’t available.

Which made me think of my own students. I’ve been lucky this year to have a slightly smaller 8th grade class, but I’m still as busy as ever. I thought about all the sign-up sheets on my desk, and how sometimes, it takes me one or two days to follow up with these students. Not because I don’t want to talk to them, but because every day can be filled with chaos and crises, and I am never guaranteed enough time. I think about students who like to check in with me, but whom I can’t always consistently meet with on the same day, or even the same time. As one of my kiddos put it, “You just never know what’s going to come through your door next, do you, Ms. B?” And for the record, he’s absolutely right.

I am so incredibly blessed to work in a district that recognizes the importance of counselors, psychologists, and social workers, and why we are so necessary. I’m also really fortunate that my administration recognizes the work we do. They’ve excused us from lunch duty and hallways sweeps. They limit the number of students who test with us. I’m lucky; I can’t say that enough. But I recognize that not every counselor is in my situation. At my school, the student to counselor ratio (on average) is about 310 to 1. In the state of Wisconsin, it’s around 454 to 1. And the ideal ratio? 250 to 1.

Why is this important? Because the more “stretched” we become, the less effective we are, and most importantly, the less time we have for kids. That means students who are struggling with bullying, mental health issues, academics, or trauma may not see us when their need is highest. This also means that we lose a window of opportunity to get to know the student on a deeper level. For some, it’s okay; the student will keep reaching out to us and we will have that chance. But for some who may already be nervous or scared to reach out, if they can’t have us at that precise moment the window closes and may not open up again.

Are we bound to miss students sometimes? Yes, of course. Sometimes, we have another student in our offices, and we have to tell the other one we will talk to them later. That’s part of our job. But the more counselors, psychologists, social workers, and outside agencies that are available, the less time they have to wait, the quicker we can address the problem, and the sooner students can return to class with a less-burdened mind. With their mind at ease, students have more brain power for school, which can help them achieve their full academic potential.

We’ve heard that these things we teach and model – emotional regulation, conflict resolution, and organization – are “soft skills.” These so-called “soft skills” are not that soft. These are skills that are so important to a student’s every day functioning as an adult. Their social/emotional success is just as critical to their learning as reading and math. That is what we are trained in. That is why we’re needed.

The event really sparked my enthusiasm, and continued to stress the importance of mental health professionals. But it was the youth panel that reminded me of why I do what I do, why I advocate for counselors, and why it’s an important job. The most inspiring thing is that these students haven’t given up. Neither should we.

5 Things to Remember About Middle School Students

7841950486_428fcebe11_bBy Sabrina Bartels

I want to tell you a secret: I initially did not want to be in a middle school.

During my interview, one of my interviewers asked which age level I would most like to work with. At the time, I replied that I wanted to be in a high school. Talking about college, advising students on their application essays, and discussing scholarships sounded like what I most wanted in life. The interviewers then asked what age group I did not want to work with. I laughed and responded “Middle school!”

Here’s why I initially said no: middle school is a really tough age. In fact, that’s probably an under-exaggeration. Middle school is probably the toughest age. You’re not an adult, but you’re not a kid either. You want to be independent, yet you want rules. You want your parents’ love, but then you hate it because it’s so overbearing (I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “Oh my God, Mom! I can’t hug you in public!”). You’re hormonal and cranky, and no one seems to understand you. Trust me, I remember.

With all that on my mind, I was full of trepidation when I went into the middle school.

But now, I love it. I thrive on it. Because as crazy as these days may be, I love my students. I love my job. I also love quoting my parents, which I do on a frequent basis (I can’t tell you the number of times I say “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?”).

I recently stumbled across an article by Jennifer Gonzalez that was entitled “8 Things I know for Sure About Middle School Kids.” It was a hilarious, but very truthful list of things to know about middle school students. While her thoughts and tips are spot on, I thought I would add a few lessons that I have learned as well.

  1. Middle school students are (surprisingly) very forgiving. Whether it’s you or their best “frenemy,” middle schoolers are willing to bury the hatchet with others. Enemy talks about them behind their back? Two days later, they are best friends. Student gets into a verbal disagreement with a teacher? The teacher is back in his good graces before the end of the day. And when I need to have a serious discussion with a kiddo and give her a consequence, the pouting lasts for a day or less.
  2. They really do appreciate the boundaries you set. How is this possible when they argue with you at EVERY turn? But I have found that my middle school students feel much safer and more secure when there are firm boundaries set. For example, my students know that when they come into my office, they can say almost anything they want. My only rule is that they not swear. When I have students who need to vent, they often come in furious, spewing out all their hatred for school, their teacher, or their homework. But the minute they swear, many of them turn bright red, apologize, then proceed in a more neutral tone. It teaches them that they can have feelings and they can be angry, but they have to moderate their anger and be appropriate with it.
  3. Respect is expressed in so many different ways. This was one of the biggest eye-openers for me coming into a middle school. I’ve been raised that respect looks like polite words and gestures, calm tone of voice, and eye contact. Some of my students do not have the same ideas of what respect is, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t show it; they just express it in different ways. I remember one student mentioned to me that the reason he never shouted at me the same way he yelled at other teachers because he didn’t want to make me cry. I don’t know why he thought I would cry over this, but he was very careful and mindful never to shout at me. I think it was respect, and it really flattered me. Even if students don’t meet my definition of “respect,” they still find ways to demonstrate it.
  4. They are still learning how to ask for help … and that’s hard. I can’t tell you the number of students I meet with who are struggling in class, yet when I ask them if they have spoken to their teachers about this, they say no. Some are too embarrassed, some are just plain shy, and some have honestly no idea how to ask for help, since they never had to in school before. I was one of those kids when I was in middle school, so these kiddos have a very special place in my heart. As a counselor, the best thing I can do is model with them how to ask for help, and assure them that there is nothing wrong with it.
  5. They really are watching everything you do. Every year, you would think that I would get used to the fact that being a middle school counselor is the equivalent to being a goldfish in an aquarium. And yet, every year it still surprises me. While I don’t run into students too often, they do randomly appear at different places: State Fair, Summerfest, various restaurants, and the mall. Some say hi to me in the moment; some pretend I don’t exist, but mention it the next time they see me at school. I know some of my students try to find me on social media. What does this mean for me? It means that wherever I go, I’m mindful of how I act, speak, and dress. Before I post anything on social media, I consider what would happen if my students ever saw it. I want to be a role model for my students, both in and out of school. It’s important to me. Even when they act like they could care less about me, I know they’re watching.

Those are my five thoughts! If you want to read the original article, you can find it here.

As Graduation Approaches, Reflect on the Many Lessons Learned

2475149762_a1aae0c22d (1).jpgBy Amanda Szramiak – One of my favorite things about education courses is that our midterms and finals usually ask us to apply what we have learned over the course of the semester to our professional development. I think this form of assessment is truly beneficial to myself as a student but also as a future educator, as it allows me to reflect on the knowledge and skills I have acquired during my teacher education training and how I can apply it as I pursue my journey into full-time teaching. Here are some of the things I have learned:

Middle School Really Isn’t So Bad
At the beginning of the class, I assumed middle school learners were difficult to deal with, easily agitated, and uninterested learners. For some reason, I had this preconceived notion that middle school learners were the hardest group of students to teach. While I had no reasoning behind these assumptions other than hearing horror stories, I was extremely skeptical about teaching in the middle school grades.

Thankfully, I have learned an immense amount of information about middle school learners and how to teach these specific learners, which has eradicated my previous thoughts about adolescent learners. All learners, at some point, are difficult to teach. Whether a student is having a bad day or they are not understanding the materials, all students struggle, not just middle school learners. This realization allowed me to see my own ignorance. Similarly, there are some days when students are more eager to learn than others, and that is okay.

When I realized this, I concluded that no matter what age I teach, I will have to make sure my students are aware that some days are going to be better than others. I am thankful for my middle school students in my field placement this semester because they have shown me the importance of treating them like young adults. Middle school learners need to know that they are not in elementary school anymore, and I must motivate them to learn and engage in school as the young adults they are.

While my middle school students did confirm that middle school learners can be difficult to deal with at times, I am no longer deterred from teaching middle school because of them. My students were eager to participate in my lessons, and I think we were all able to learn something from each other

The Importance of Social-Emotional Support in the Classroom
Based on my experiences in my classroom and my field experience, I have learned a great deal about aiding the social-emotional support. The five most important lessons, in my opinion, are as follows:

  • Because middle school learners’ brains are constantly developing and evolving, it is imperative to “design lessons that include a full range of sensory experiences, including music, smell, touch, and emotion (“The Young Adolescent Learning,” Saylers and Mckee, p. 2). By incorporating different types of sensory-based lessons, I will be able to keep my students’ engaged and interested in the learning. This technique will also allow me to differentiate for the benefit of all students in my classroom.
  • As a teacher, I aim to “provide competitive learning opportunities, even while holding to cooperating learning frameworks” to ensure the success of my students on a level that surpasses textbook learning (“10 Strategies for Teaching Boys Effectively,” Gurian and Stevens). While this article predominantly addresses middle school boys, middle school girls also benefit from this type of learning because it shows students who are struggling with thinking about how learning has an impact in their outside lives, that the application of their knowledge means something beyond the classroom.
  • Because the middle school learners’ frontal lobe has not developed fully, I plan to incorporate emotion into my lessons because “emotion drives attention and attention drives learning”(“The Adolescent Brain-Learning Strategies & Teaching Tips,” p. 8). By incorporating meaningful experiences and emotions into the lessons, I will be giving my students opportunities to learn by using emotionally-charged messages and phrases to stimulate the amygdala, the storage center for emotion (p. 8).
  • In order to be the most effective teacher, I will ensure that all my students know my expectations because it is absolutely necessary for middle school learners to know exactly what is being asked of them (Taylor and Francis, 2015). Because middle school learners’ attention spans are constantly fluctuating, I plan to make all my expectations of them clear to reinforce the importance of structure in the classroom as well as in their lives outside of school.
  • Lastly, in order to facilitate the socio-emotional growth of my students, I will believe that all students in any type of school can succeed at high levels (“Characteristics of High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools,” p. 2).

Field Experience as Professional Development
One particular course and field placement experience have allowed me to grow as a professional and as a person. The first example of my professional development occurred during my direct instruction lesson plan in which I taught my students how to properly site different types of sources. First, I modeled the examples of different types of citations, and then we began to engage in guided practice. I soon realized that a fair number of students were not completely grasping the differences in citations and were not able use in-text citations.

Since “instruction is modified to accommodate each student’s rate of learning,” I paused. I told my students to continue on with the following citations if they were understanding the material (“Basic Philosophy of Direct Instruction,” p. 2). I re-explained how to properly take information from a sentence and turn it into a citation. This was one of the first instances in which I had to quickly adjust my explanations as well as the lessons, and I think these adjustments enhanced my professional development.

Similarly, in my EdTPA direct instruction lesson plan, I explicitly taught my students the vocabulary words from the two stories we were reading that week. I was intentional in choosing direct instruction because almost ninety percent of my class was receiving basic or minimal scores on all of their vocabulary tests. While direct instruction may not be my favorite type of lesson, I recognized my students’ need for explicit teaching, which highlights my professional growth.

While I think I will forever be improving my classroom management skills, I have been able to develop certain skills over this semester. Fortunately, classroom management has never been an issue in my previous field placements, as my students would simply listen to me. I considered myself lucky for this; however, I knew I needed to develop more classroom management skills to ensure I was a well-rounded and prepared teacher. I was worried about my cooperative learning lesson because my students were easily side tracked when they were able to engage in conversation.

Because of this concern, I made sure to stress the importance for providing individual accountability by telling my students they were each going to submit the worksheet they were completing, even if they were working on it with another student (“What is Cooperative Learning?”). This preplanned classroom management set the tone for the room because it made my students realize that they were all going to have to turn in a completed worksheet rather than just having one student finish all the work.

Throughout all my lessons, I did struggle to keep my students’ attention on me, and I think the classroom management tactic of remaining calm and composed while simultaneously being a good actress allowed me to develop a firmer presence in the classroom (“Seven Things Effective Teachers Do EVERY Day”). In allowing awkward wait times while maintaining a serious disposition, I think my teacher voice grew immensely during my field experience.


As I embark on a new journey next fall, I will carry the lessons I’ve learned throughout my teacher education training at Marquette, and will be forever grateful for the professors, cooperating teachers, colleagues, and students who helped shape me into the teacher I am today.

Having a Crush or Being Crushing?

red-love-heart-valentines.jpgBy Sabrina Bartels – When I was in elementary school, one of the boys in my class shoved me to the ground during a routine game of tag. As my friend took me to the office for my skinned knee, she smiled and whispered, “I think he likes you. My mom said that when a boy is mean to you, that’s him showing that he likes you.” I was skeptical of her viewpoint. But three days later, that same boy who is the reason I have a scar on my right knee passed me a note that said I was pretty.

That was my first experience with a boy being mean as a way to show affection. And it wasn’t just physical things either. As I got into middle school, I would watch boys tease girls or make fun of them in class, only to have them turn around a few days later and tell the girls that they had a crush on them. I remember one boy shouting at a girl in class that she was one of the dumbest people he knew, but then asked her out a week later. It was confusing, but something that I eventually grew to accept. It must be “a boy thing.”

Now that I’m working in a middle school, I find myself hearing a lot about boys who are mean to girls. There are boys who shove girls in gym class, insult them in front of the entire class, take their phones, or French-lock their lockers (turn their locks the wrong way, making it near impossible to get into their lockers). Many times, groups of girls congregate in my office, asking why boys are so stupid and do the things they do. And almost every time, their friends or I will suggest that it’s the boy’s way of expressing their crush.

Recently on Facebook, videos and posts have been circulating about the harsh physicality that boys show to girls when they have a crush. One particular post made me pause. It said “Don’t tell your daughter that when a boy is mean or rude to her it’s because he has a crush on her. Don’t teach her that abuse is a sign of love.” A person then responded, “A million times YES. Do not spread that bull. There is NO love in abuse.”

Reading that post really hit me.

Every time I tell one of my girls that a boy did something mean because he has a crush on her, I am validating the boy’s behavior. I’m saying it’s okay. I’m saying that it’s “a boy thing” and that they will eventually grow out of it. But that’s the thing: Not every boy grows out of it. A lot of them do, I’m sure, but some don’t. Some take that belief of “it’s okay to be mean because that’s how I should be showing a girl I like her.” And then there are some girls who go through life thinking that “it’s okay if he’s mean to me; that’s just how boys are.”

I always thought by telling these girls that a boy is acting that way because he likes her, she will be flattered. She will look at boys’ behaviors differently. I never thought that I would unconsciously be implying that boys can treat girls poorly, and it’s okay.

I think about the people that I know who have been in physically or emotionally abusive relationships. So many times, I have heard people say that they “deserved” the abuse; they antagonized their significant other or “nagged” them after a bad day. Some people say that they took someone for better or worse, and that the “worse” part is now. Others say that this is just the way their significant other is.

Would I be able to look at them and say “Oh, it’s just his way of showing that he loves you?” Or “Don’t mind her, she’s just being a typical girl?’

Of course not.

But here I am, talking to my middle school students, excusing people’s behavior because it may be the way they show affection.

That post on Facebook was a huge wake-up call for me. It showed me the power that my words can have, and how carefully I need to choose my words. It also emphasized the point that cruelty to anyone is wrong, whether it is a joke or not. And I, as an educator and an adult, need to stop excusing it. Boy or girl, no one should be mean to show affection. No one should be mean to others, period.

So the next time that student comes into my office, wondering why another is acting rude to them, I will not tell them that it’s just that person’s way of showing affection. I will not brush it off. I will have a talk with my students about appropriate ways to show affection. I will not allow them to be mean, and dismiss their behavior by saying it’s just a phase, and that it’s okay.

Hopefully, this will help the next generation recognize their worth, their importance, and the kindness and gentleness of love.

Value Friendship

maureen cummings blog picBy Maureen Cummings – We stood, fifty-seven strong, in the rays of what photographers refer to as golden hour in the quiet aftermath of a storm that left our study group to be the only visitors at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece, a place where thinkers like Socrates used to share their contemplations.

One of particular interest to me was an aphorism shared by our guide, “Value friendship.”

We sat, fifty-seven strong, that same evening in a restaurant resting on a hilltop in a room that was bright red, but dimly lit. It had tables and chairs and couches and candles. It had a wheel of local goat cheese for each person paired with wine that seemed endless.

While dinner carried on and new dishes appeared every ten minutes we talked for hours, each of the fifty-seven falling into one of about six tables that filled the entire venue. At our table conversations bounced from our favorite books to movies to the time Angelo sent himself to the principal’s office in first grade. We covered siblings and college involvement, and most who know me have already rightfully assumed I brought up the Christmas letter of 2007. We discussed majors and the suddenly all too real question of what each of us wants to do with our degree of that major.

At my turn, I spoke extensively of my excitement towards education and my love of middle school only in response to the table’s mutual cringe as each person considered what a creature he or she had been in that stage of life. I cracked my usual jokes of how middle school was my self-proclaimed peak, despite my 12- minute mile time and inability to make a fairly no-cut drama production, and how I just had to return to it.

While the joke was its usual hit being that self-deprecation nine times out ten kills, I then took a more serious take on explaining my excitement for the future. This began with a reflective acknowledgement of what I had been taught in this stage of my life.

In middle school I learned a lot. I learned about democracy and polynomials. I learned that it was weird to have swung a deal with the track and field coach so that I didn’t have run and could just throw the shot put. I soon after learned it was okay to not be involved in everything, which led to my immediate retirement from track and field.

I learned to be insecure and to resent the three to four inches I stood over the average boy my age. I later learned I didn’t need to be the prettiest one or even one of the prettier ones. After my braces were finally off, I also learned I wasn’t going to be one of the prettiest ones.

(I learned to make jokes instead, so no pity needed there.)

In English class, I learned I loved the underground language of literature that went beyond the surface-level story lines. I learned to relate to and fall in love with characters in books, a consequence of this being the afternoon I spent sitting in my room crying when characters’ dogs died. I learned how exciting the 20 new words introduced on Tuesday vocabulary days could be for my writing.

For the most part, I learned I loved school, which I am so obviously grateful for; however, of all things middle school taught me, I am most grateful for how these years showed me how to have and how to be a friend.

In middle school, I learned how to hold someone’s hand when her grandparent passed away. I learned how to help someone study to make the test less stressful. In the course of these years, I learned how to have expectations for how I wanted to be treated, and when these expectations weren’t met I learned how to forgive. I also learned that that was easier said than done.

These were new lessons because for the first time they were led by my own understanding of what I wanted friendship to look like in my life, more so than in my younger years when every decision was monitored and behavior required more reinforcement.

I grew to understand the importance of calling to see how someone’s day was and while doing so I learned how to listen– for hours.

I realized non-negotiable truths about the expectations I would have for myself in regards to being a friend. I saw how my closest friends loved me, and I promised myself I’d do the same back to them, for however long they would have me.

I learned that I would fail to uphold these all the time, so I also had to learn how to ask for forgiveness.

I would never deny that middle school was awkward. One year I accidentally wore my shirt backwards on picture day. In preparation for that very same picture day, I had my orthodontist switch out the rubber bands in my braces so that they would color coordinate to the outfit I had chosen, so it wasn’t even a lack of effort. I actually tried really hard.

All joking aside, I hoped to explain to the table, that this is the part of middle school that passes us.  We grow out of it or, for some of us, we learn to embrace it. It’s those other moments that mattered. In grades six, seven, and eight the groundwork was being set for the first time for the type of person I wanted to intentionally choose to become. This was all a result of role models I was presented with and the lessons I observed based on the exposure I was given inside and outside the classroom.

Middle school is immature and loud. Middle school can be unkind and is undoubtedly filled with hormones, but middle school is also an opportunity often overlooked as we try to repress the darkness of some of our own memories.

So as I decompressed to the five others at my table this long list of reasons why teaching middle school English feels like my calling, I realize it’s much simpler than I’ve made it.

Earlier in the day when the six of us were part of the of fifty-seven standing strong, we were told the truth Socrates shared: value friendship.

In my few years into young adulthood I have come to know that there is nothing I appreciate more than the kind and selfless friends I am so fortunate to be surrounded and supported by. I have also come to know valuing friendship goes beyond cherishing people, but consists of respecting what it means to be a friend to someone else, which is something I began to learn in middle school.

Rather than the small speech I presented my table, I should have simply explained that I would love a job where I could talk about characters, words, and writing, but I would live for a career where I might be even a small part in setting someone’s foundation for how he or she plans to spend a lifetime valuing friendship. 

Seven (More) Truths Every Middle Schooler Should Hear

tumblr_mgmpdsZwMl1r5n0bgo1_r1_500By Sabrina Bartels – I recently came across an article titled “10 Truths Middle Schoolers Should Know.” As I read the ten statements, I laughed a little to myself.

To start, the “truths” that were identified are 100% correct. I also giggled because I have repeated several of these phrases to my students, to no avail. I think out of all the truths in this article, I say #8 the most: “Technology makes it easier than ever to ruin relationships and reputations.”

As fantastic as the article is, I think there are a few truths that are missing. I brainstormed seven (more) “truths” that I want my middle school students to know.

  1. A Facebook (or Instagram/Twitter/Kik) photo lasts forever. You may think you deleted that embarrassing photo of you in a revealing tank top, but since you posted it, it is forever in cyberspace. And the scary thing is that someday, an employer may be able to pull it up. Think twice before you post. I always say that if you wouldn’t want your grandparents seeing it, don’t post it.
  2. What you say can come back to bite you. Some of my students swear fluently, while others do it just to fit in with the rest of the crowd. However, swearing gives your language a nasty flare. You may think it is cool now, but it’s not as cool when you are an adult (especially if you do it in front of your boss.) Swearing is a bad habit, and you never know when you might slip. In addition, people are going to remember you as someone with a potty-mouth, which may not bode well for you.
  3. You (and your friends) are going to change (and this is not necessarily a bad thing). Last year, a lot of my students began our conversations with “This person I was best friends with last year is no longer friends with me …” It hurts when you and your friends drift apart, but it happens to all of us. As we get older, our ideas and visions and dreams change. Sometimes, we mature faster than our friends, or find ourselves believing in different things. That’s okay. It’s normal. In fact, sometimes you change so you can meet those friends you will stay with for years and years to come.
  4. You cannot put a price tag on friendship. Please do not feel that the only way you can be friends with someone is if you buy them things. Buying presents and sharing experiences is nice, but don’t feel like this is the only way you can make and keep a friend.
  5. Not everyone is doing itYou can fill in “it” with whatever you want: cheating on tests, dating, doing drugs, or having sex. Not everyone in the school is doing it. In fact, a good majority of the middle school population is not doing it. Don’t listen to those people who scoff at you and say, “Well, everyone is doing it.” Chances are, “everyone” is a very small, select group of people.
  6. You become like the five people you spend the most time withI read this somewhere, and have shared this comment with several of my students. There is a study that you embody the personality traits of the five people you spend the most time with. I have changed it  up a little and asked my students to think strictly of the five friends they spend the most time with. Are they okay with being like them? If the answer is no, you may want to re-evaluate your friendships.
  7. Your teachers remember exactly what middle school was like.It’s funny, because so many of my students tell me that their teachers “don’t understand what it’s like to be in middle school today.” And here’s the thing, we don’t know what it’s like. You’re right. We grew up without Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. Most of us didn’t have Internet, or if we did, we got kicked off if someone had to make a phone call. But all the drama and all the chaos and all the hormones? Oh, we remember those days vividly. Don’t worry. We may be older, but we do know what you’re going through.

Feel free to add more! And if you want to read the original article, please click here.

Dear Middle Schoolers: An Open Letter on Love and Relationships

Photo Credit: patrick_bird via Compfight cc and Untangled

Photo Credit: patrick_bird via Compfight cc and Untangled

By Sabrina Bong — While perusing Pinterest a few days ago, I stumbled across a letter that a blogger wrote to his daughter.

In the letter, the writer details how mad he was when he was Googling something and the words “How to keep him interested” came up. He then tells his daughter EXACTLY how her future husband should treat her, and that it is never her job to “keep him interested.” (If you want to read it, check it out here. It’s amazing.)

This letter really struck a chord for me for a couple of reasons. The first is that my father has always told me the same thing: I should never have to do anything specific to “keep him interested.” The second is that I have had so many of my female students come into my office and ask me, “Mrs. Bartels, what can I do for my boyfriend to like me more?” I have had students detail the silly, or sometimes serious, things that they have done to keep a boy’s attention. And it sickens me in a way, it really does.

Inspired by the letter I found online, I decided to write one of my own to all my students, not just my girls. Here is what I want them to know:

Dear Middle School Students,

We started this middle school journey together. When you started here as quiet, shy sixth graders, I started my first job as a middle school counselor. It was a big transition for both of us! But as the year progressed, we both adjusted to our new roles and got more comfortable with each other. I would chat with many of you about school, sports, and siblings. When 7th grade started, I was excited to see all of you and how much you had changed over summer. It feels like all of you got taller! You also matured significantly; suddenly, that drama that was so important in 6th grade was “below you.” (To be honest, I am thankful for that!)

As seventh grade went on, I began to notice that many of you chose to come into my office to talk about significant others. Suddenly, I felt just like a parent. I knew that the questions you were asking and how I reacted to them would be crucial to your understanding of love and romance. I wanted to share my answers with all of you, since I think this advice is important.

Let me make one thing super clear right now about relationships: you should NEVER have to change who you essentially are to make your significant other happy. Will you someday change? Yes. (If I think about it, I became a little more patient once I got married.) But does that mean changing your values and what is important to you? No. And here’s the thing: This is not you being “stubborn” or “mean” or a word that rhymes with “witchy”. That is you being WHO YOU ARE. If spending time with your family is important to you, do not give that up. And if your significant other truly respects you for who you are, they will understand that.

Which brings me to respect. I have talked with a lot of you about respect in a relationship. Respect involves admiring someone for their abilities and talents and personality. Showing someone respect in a relationship does not mean giving in every time someone asks you to do something. If you are scared of horror movies because they always give you nightmares, “respect” does not mean forcing yourself to watch them because your significant other wants to (or your significant other forcing you to watch them or they will break up with you.) You can politely decline watching them.

If your significant other respects you enough, they will do one of two things:
1) Watch them when you are not around; or
2) Choose something else to watch with you instead. Being respectful also means that your significant other will NEVER, EVER lay a hand on you or tell you that you are worthless. Their pet names for you will not be “fatty” or “b****” or any of the other ones some of you have shared with me. If they cannot be nice and call you by your name, then you need to have a talk with them.

Now, to answer the big question that so many of you have asked me: Yes, I think you guys are a little too young to know that the person you are currently dating is going to be “the one.” You guys are still growing and changing and learning who you are. There is nothing wrong with that process. People learn this at different times. For some, knowing who you are seems to be a natural thing. For others, they may need to try on several different hats to know who they are. You’ll figure it out. Oh, and the second half of that big question that you all always ask: The answer is that you will know when the person you are with is “the one.” It’ll feel different with them than with any other person. But give yourself time to find that person. There is no need to rush: dating and getting married is not a contest. You do not get a prize for saying that you met your future partner or spouse in middle school versus your third year of college versus when you are in your 30s. Enjoy this time and be patient. Timing is everything in relationships.

Please remember that you are unique and special and so incredibly loved for who you are, and that my hope is that you will find someone someday who sees you the way I see you: as a smart, talented, inspiring person with so much to offer this world. I am so incredibly grateful for being able to go on this journey with you and have you share pieces of your lives with me, and cannot wait for the day that I can brag that you were one of my “kids.”

Remember: “There is only one you. Don’t you dare change just because you’re outnumbered!” (Charles Swindoll)

With love,
Mrs. Bartels

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