38: Sliding Along the Halls of Middle School

38: Sliding Along the Halls of Middle School

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

Sliding Along the Halls of Middle School

As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm.
Jump.
It is not as wide as you think.

~Native American Initiation Rite

The buzz of the bell interrupted my daydreaming. I hastily gathered my books and shoved them into my backpack. No time for being neat. My survival depended on being invisible.

I could imagine the taunts: “Hey, there she is! Ugly Renee. Let’s follow her home.” It had happened before—a torturous stroll complete with cruel taunts and a few rocks thrown for the “fright” factor. Visibility was dangerous. Sliding along the wall of the hallway, I was able to avoid the pushing, laughing crowd of kids who used the breaks to socialize and sometimes tease geeks like me. I did not understand their world and they had no interest in understanding mine. That was the essence of my middle school existence—stay out of everyone’s way until I could run home to safety at the end of the day.

Then I was placed in Mr. Johnson’s Language Arts class. A thin, greasy-haired girl with pimples, I expected to be just another nameless face in the midst of the teacher’s full class schedule. Sure, some students would never be faceless. They were part of the “beautiful” set. I belonged to the ranks of the unsure, the ordinary, and the awkward. We stumbled in and out of classes like dust balls, so commonplace that we were barely considered a life form.

“Welcome to Language Arts,” grinned Mr. Johnson. He sat on the edge of his desk and told jokes as he talked about English. I forgot to daydream and laughed along with the rest of the class.

“We are going to have some fun with language,” he said as he loosened his tie. “Just wait and see.”

Fun was far beyond what I desired. I just wanted to be like the other kids—running around with friends in the hallway, laughing and joking in between class. Reminded of my crooked teeth and pimpled face, I hunched down in my chair and stared at the smooth surface of my desk.

“Take out a piece of paper,” the teacher continued as he leaned back and relaxed, “Write for the next thirty minutes on this topic.” To this day I cannot remember the topic. I do remember writing furiously as idea after idea fought for recognition in my head. The final outcome was a short story about a haunted beach house. As I wrote, I could smell the salty air. I could hear the crashing waves and feel the pull of the sand beneath my feet. For just a moment, I forgot where I was. I forgot who I was supposed to be. I was lost in the story.

“OK, pass your papers forward,” said the teacher. “Let’s see what we have.”

For the rest of the class time, the teacher read each individual work aloud. I braced myself for the humiliation. Instead, I was captivated by the excitement in the teacher’s voice.

“He’s actually enjoying this,” I thought. He read each work as if it were a masterpiece. Students sat up straighter in their chairs. No one muttered nasty remarks. No one smirked at mistakes. For one short class period, students saw each other differently because what we had to say mattered to the teacher at the front of the room.

From then on, we had a writing assignment every day. The guidelines were simple; the ideas were up to us. I remember the sound of pencils scraping against paper as we eagerly filled our lined paper with words from our imagination. The reward was listening to the teacher read our works aloud.

Outside of class, I still slid along the lockers. The new confidence that I felt in my English class disappeared in the crowded hallways. With head down and my books clutched against my chest, I braved the puberty jungle and trudged from class to class.

“Hey, are you Renee?” A voice rang out from behind me one afternoon as I headed to my last class. I froze. This was it. I was about to get beat up, pushed around or worse—taunted in front of the other students.

“Hey, you,” the voice persisted again. I gulped and turned. The girl held up the weekly school paper. “Did you write this story? I love it.”

Speechless, I shook my head. I barely had the courage to speak at school much less write for the school paper.

“It has your name on it,” the girl added excitedly, “I love it. ‘The Beach House.’ Haunted. Cool.”

The next time I went to English class, my teacher was waiting for me.

“I hope you didn’t mind,” he said, “You really have something to say. Other people need to read it.”

My face flushed as I stumbled to my desk. I had something to say? Me? During the writing time, I scribbled furiously. After class, I clutched the teacher’s words to my heart as tightly as I clutched my textbooks to my chest. I had something to say. Me. An awkward adolescent who could barely lift her head, much less utter a word in public. I had something to say.

Eventually, I moved on to a new class in a new grade. But I kept writing. I began speaking in front of other people and enjoyed it. I developed a love for communication and drama. As I grew and matured, the awkward girl slowly disappeared. A braver, more confident woman emerged. But I never forgot the teacher in middle school who believed in every student—the jock, the cool kid, even the shy girl who stared at her desk. He believed and he listened. He made his class a haven for students and a place to grow. My time in his class is a memory that I still visit when I start to lose my confidence and slide along the walls of life.

These days, I lift my head up and face the world. Once again, I believe in myself because my teacher believed in me.

~Renee Hixson

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