56: Eighth Grade Giants

56: Eighth Grade Giants

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

Eighth Grade Giants

Confront your fears, list them, get to know them, and only then will you be able to put them aside and move ahead.

~Jerry Gillies

There are plenty of things to think about when you start middle school—locker combinations, rotten teachers, too much homework—so sharing a building with a whole lot of eighth graders was the least of my worries. Well, at first.

Being a rather tall eleven-year-old, you’d think I would have no problem passing older kids in the hallways, but it wasn’t so. The biggest kids in school were not just huge: they were, to me, terrifying.

Picture this—a bunch of innocent sixth graders strolling down the corridor when, lo and behold, a gang of gigantic thirteen-year-olds pops out of nowhere and thunders past, banging into lockers on the way! Not to say that all the eighth graders were this violent, but a good number of them were simply too large and loud for my liking. Admittedly, nearly half of them were my height or shorter, but even those students sort of scared me. I mean, some of the guys had facial hair! Getting stopped or beaten up by one of these kids was my worst nightmare.

Strangely, none of my friends seemed to share this fear. They courageously strutted past the older kids while I cowered in the corner. Still, I hardly ever saw the eighth graders and spent most of my time studying with my eleven-year-old classmates.

One day, my fun-loving instrumental teacher invited my friend Kristina and me to hang back during last period and hang out with him in the school’s assembly room. We readily agreed and ran upstairs to grab our belongings. But when we returned downstairs, we heard the din of chattering voices blaring from inside the room. We peered in through the grimy windows and gasped. Lounging on the cushioned chairs, sitting on the edge of the stage, and even lying on the carpeted floor, were about one hundred eighth graders.

Kristina looked at me and I looked at her. Despite her bravery when it came to them, she was no more a fan of the older kids than I was. We weighed our options. If we went back to class, we’d have to suffer through forty-three minutes of pure boredom. On the other hand, if we entered the room, we could be seriously injured, or worse, humiliated in front of a huge crowd (all middle schoolers know that embarrassment costs much more than physical injuries).

While I was still deliberating, Kris pushed open the door and shoved me into the crowded room. I almost screamed when several heads turned to stare at the unwelcome eleven-year-old in the corner, and I grabbed Kristina’s arm and pulled her in after me. The door swung closed as most of the older kids disgustedly turned back to their private conversations.

I just felt so out of place! They wore Abercrombie-labeled tight-fitting shirts and miniskirts while I stood uncomfortably in my oversize sweatpants and muddy sneakers. Their mascara and lip gloss shone on their mature faces. When several turned around to glance at Kris and me, I felt like I would die from the attention. I could almost read their expressions: “Oh, it’s just a couple of sixth graders. Let me go back to my own conversation.” Still, that hurt.

Shivering, we turned to our music teacher, whose name was Mr. Guild.

“What?” he asked, chortling, “You thought I had a free period?”

“Mr. Guild, they’re scary!” I shrieked, “What were you thinking?!”

He chuckled and motioned to a few nearby girls. “Hey, get this! Claire over here’s afraid of you!”

It was the last thing that would make me feel better.

Some of the girls were kind of nice, though. They didn’t say much, just murmured phrases of indignation. You’d think it would calm me down, but I still had my doubts.

One girl passing by was enthusiastically blowing on an oversize, multicolored paper pinwheel. I stared as she forced all the other kids to puff on the wheel, making it spin faster than ever. I couldn’t help but grin.

The girl turned and offered us a blow on the pinwheel, which we gladly took. Mr. Guild then explained my fear of older students, and the girl, Annie, grabbed my wrist and began leading me around the auditorium and introducing me to intimidating clusters of kids.

“EVERYONE, THIS IS CLAIRE AND SHE’S SCARED OF YOU!” Annie screamed to her friends. Afterwards, she took it upon herself to educate me in the art of being an eighth grader. First, she instructed, I had to make a pinwheel to share with all my friends and change my favorite color to black.

Escaping from this frightening lesson, we hastened to the corner where we found ourselves face to face with (oh boy) a girl with hot pink hair. When would this nightmare end? Actually, she was the nicest girl we’d encountered that day. Surprises never cease.

Once we were semi-alone, I asked Kristina if she thought we’d be identified as sixth graders if another teacher came to investigate the loud noises emanating from the stage. After all, although we’d probably blend in with the students, I was a little nervous that both of us would get in trouble with our guidance counselor, considering we weren’t enrolled in this particular class.

“Liz,” Kristina grinned, pointing to the massive pile of backpacks near the stairs, “there’s your giveaway.” I immediately understood. In the heap of dark blue, red, camouflage, and black knapsacks, the smallest bright lavender one seemed to pop out. I groaned and mentally added “get a cooler backpack” to my list of things to do, then removed it. Why be like everyone else when I could be, well, me?

When the bell finally rang, Kris and I were the first ones out the door. And I knew that even though I might not be the coolest future eighth grader, I wasn’t going to change for anyone.

Anyway, I guess the current eighth graders aren’t so bad after all.

~Claire Howlett

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