Middle school – one year down

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 Before M started Grade 7, I was told repeatedly that the transition to middle school could be challenging, especially for a child with ADHD – larger school, more responsibility, and more demands. Since transitions of any sort can often be difficult for M, I was continually on the outlook for signs that he was struggling: increased anxiety, calls from the school about his behaviour, etc. Based on our elementary school experience, I fully expected to be on a first name basis with the principal by no later than the end of the first month.

Looking back over the last 10 months, I can unequivocally say that M had a successful year. Full credit to him – he adapted to and navigated a new environment. There were some bumps. But these were generally one-offs and relatively minor. I didn’t actually meet the principal until after Christmas and I had one call from her all year. My blood pressure didn’t automatically spike whenever my office phone rang.

Probably the biggest change was in terms of his behaviour. M didn’t get as angry and aggressive whenever things didn’t go his way. I thought he might be overwhelmed by the social complexities of middle school, but he made friends with different groups of kids, not just the students who had come from his elementary school. He certainly enjoyed having more freedom and responsibility – he and some of his buddies would occasionally go for pizza or to a nearby discount store for candy during lunch. On the whole, he was much happier than in previous years. This is a huge win for M.

He still had some challenges, in terms of getting along with people he didn’t like, particularly supply teachers. Early in the year, he took it upon himself to “tell the supply teachers what everyone else in the class was thinking.” This strategy probably netted him a few visits to the hallway and/or the office. We had a numerous conversations at home about respecting authority, recognizing that M has never accepted “because” as a reason to do anything, even at home. While M may be more extreme than the average child, according Anthony E Wolfe, a child psychologist who writes extensively on parent/teen relationships, adults can’t count on absolute compliance from adolescents – they need to earn it. M gave the supply teacher who told the class to sit down and read a text book a hard time, as his classroom teacher always spoke to the materials, rather than having the kids read on their own. My sympathy for this particular substitute took a nose dive when M reported that she’d told him “she was glad she wasn’t his mother.” Not all teachers are good ones.

Another reality that M had to confront this year – you won’t always like all your teachers. He was very fortunate to have had great teachers in elementary school and developed close relationships with them. He didn’t bond with his homeroom teacher and was often frustrated by his teaching style. His relationship with the Art teacher was a constant source of anxiety and frustration. Not only did she have a much more traditional teaching style than he’s used to – she expected the class to sit quietly for the full 50 minutes and not talk to each other – she wasn’t flexible in terms of her expectations. M spent several weeks working to finish an assignment at home and when he took it into to class, she told him it wasn’t finished. As much as I’d prefer that M not have to deal with this teacher next year, difficult people are a fact of life and he needs to figure out how to manage these types of relationships. I certainly wish I learned this skill earlier in life.

The academic expectations in Grade 7 were higher than they had been in elementary school and M certainly did more work in class than he had in previous years. But according to his homeroom teacher, M often checked out, especially if he found the assignment to be uninteresting or difficult. I tried to explain to M that we all have to do things we don’t particularly like from time to time (like clean out our in boxes or attend long meetings), but that’s part of life. M tends to give up if he doesn’t get the answer right away. He doesn’t like to ask for help, which makes it harder for him when he doesn’t understand something.

M’s grades for the year were mostly below the class average. We didn’t talk about it very much, but I think he was a little disappointed. His dad and I don’t care about his grades. They don’t tell the whole picture, especially where M’s concerned. He could easily improve his grades by paying attention in class and doing the work. As I told him one day as he complaining about school, unfortunately for him, his teachers know he’s smart and capable of doing the work. If they thought he was doing his very best, they wouldn’t challenge him to do more. He grudgingly agreed that this was probably true. There are times when I’ve been frustrated by his lack of effort, but he’s got to figure it out for himself. He’s got another full year before (shudder) he starts high school.

Hat’s off to M for conquering Grade 7. Next step: Grade 8.

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