I love my 8th graders. They are fun, inquisitive little creatures. They can participate in a lesson on a serious topic and maintain an appropriate class discussion in which they are respectful of their peers. I can tell a funny anecdote and they laugh appropriately. They can even tell funny anecdotes themselves. They might sass from time to time, but have the maturity to listen and to consider when I redirect them. Plus, they’re delightfully weird.
7th graders are a little harder to love. (I can say this because I taught 7th grade last year, and was once an unlovable 7th grader myself.) 7th graders sometimes feel the need to make inappropriate comments during serious discussions, and continue to bring them up despite your efforts as a teacher to shame them. Most 7th graders are not funny yet, and also think that the only funny people are 7th graders. Their brand of weird is disturbing. They are like tiny, pubescent tornadoes-- completely unpredictable, loud, and destructive.
So why such a huge disparity between 7th and 8th? What kind of difference could a year really make? How could the distinction be significant enough to make me willing to put the Atlantic Ocean between myself and my own offspring for an entire year?
I’m here to answer these questions.
1) At 13, 7th graders are not physiologically able to recognize that other people are not simply moons caught in their orbit.
In one of my teaching classes, I learned some neat things about the brain. Here, meet your amygdala and your frontal lobe.
Your amygdala is responsible for emotions, instincts, and impulses. Your frontal lobe is your big “thinker,” kind of like the adult part of your brain that takes care of logic and decisions. Where your amygdala tells you “You should feel pissed-- this is injustice!” your frontal lobe tells you, “Well, take into consideration the reasons why the librarian told you not to practice your scream-yodeling inside.” In the class I took, I learned that young teenagers tend to use their amygdalas more than their front lobes when processing emotional information (surprise!). I also learned that the frontal lobe undergoes a huge growth spurt at age 12, followed by a significant period of “pruning.”
By “pruning,” experts mean, “7th grade.”
7th graders are literally figuring out how to use the smart part of their brains. This is a very exciting time (since it obviously leads to being awesome 8th graders!), but, much like learning to drive a car, there are bound to be tons of close calls, scratches, and fender-benders in that first year.
And teaching Driver’s Ed is something I would just rather avoid.
2) The T-Bone phenomenon
In the second episode of the TV show Arrested Development, Michael watches in exasperation as a fire consumes his family’s storage unit. In a moment of candor, he turns to T-Bone, his dad’s cellmate, and asks him point-blank:
Michael: T-Bone, did you set fire to the storage unit?
T-Bone: (without skipping a beat) Oh, most definitely.
My 8th graders are like T-Bone. More often than not, when you confront them about “crimes,” they either admit to them readily or immediately give you the reason behind why they did it. They know that denying it is pointless, and will make things worse*. They use their frontal cortexes.
Amygdal-icious 7th graders, alternatively, will go to their graves believing they’ve done something wrong. (By “graves” I mean “turning 14.”)
I could show a 7th grader a video from 12 different angles of him pushing a teacher down the stairs, ask why he did it, and the 7th grader would say the following:
“That ain’t me!”
“I didn’t push her!”
“She was falling and I tried to catch her!”
“I can’t control my arms!”
“I was sleepwalking!”
“YOU pushed her!”
An 8th grader would say,
“I just don’t like that lady.”
Do you see the difference? One is highly emotional, impervious to the most deserved criticism, oblivious. The other: accepting, reasoning, justifying.
Since I have approximately zero children right now, I am only able to imagine how this would play out in a mother/child role. My 7th grade daughter telling me that the outrageous cell phone bill I received is my fault for not giving her enough minutes. My 7th grade son, surrounded by a cloud of humming fruit flies, refusing to acknowledge my plea for him to wear deodorant or bathe. I’m not sure I could handle that kind of interaction since I barely managed to handle it last year in 45-minute increments.
3) Holland is a lovely place.
It’s not like I’m sending them to prison or anything.
*The only exception for 8th graders is the IWTP, which, from what I’ve told, applies to students K-12.