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Jason Haap is a frequent contributor to Winnsboro Library claims that he has never passed gas in public, handed in anything late, nor watched the morally-corrupting MTV network for anything other than research in how to better serve wayward teens.
I used to believe that most ninth-graders should not be allowed in school. They should be sent away to a little island, I thought, where they can flirt, fart, and change identities daily without dragging the rest of us into their silly little, anything-but-academic, games. On their island they could pass notes with abandon, write their signatures a million times on every whiteboard available (graffiti style or with circles and hearts), wear their pants low and their belly shirts high, and connect every comment and gesture to sex. The yo-yo emotions and pathetic humor of fourteen year-olds made me crazy. It made me want to duct tape their bodies to their hard plastic chairs and leave teaching forever.
But then they made me laugh.
I have learned that to laugh with ninth-graders is to love ninth-graders. I laugh more every day (with my students in class, and sometimes at them behind closed doors) than my colleagues who teach the upper grades do. I have grown to embrace the uncertainty of each block, enjoy the erratic emotional outbursts, and even respect the unique genre of ninth-grade humor (with the possible exception of the sub-category flatulence, though I must admit this too can be a riot).
This year, for the first time, I taught the book In the Heart of the Sea, a fantastic non-fiction account of the sinking of the whaleship Essex. The kids loved it. I loved it. We loved it together. The book allowed us to learn new reading strategies taught best through non-fiction, it allowed us to process-write about whaling, and it allowed us to…but all of that is boring edu-babble, and although true, is beside the point.
Retelling this conversation to my teammates after class made me cry from laughing. The health teacher reminded us of the student last year who labeled the virginia on the female reproductive system test, and the science teacher, through tears, added the story about the young woman who returned from the restroom and announced to the class that she couldn’t find her notebook. As we tried to recover before our next class, one of our aides poked her head in the door and asked for our assistance in the computer lab. When we asked why, she responded, “The boys are having a farting contest.” We barely made it to class.
Lately, my friends and relatives have accused me of becoming ninth-gradish. My colleagues and I pass notes during faculty meetings, we laugh every time we assign a 69%, we rearrange each other’s desks, add fake appointments to each other’s date books, and make faces through classroom windows. We think we’re a riot. Others say we’re juvenile.
At first, I was offended. Now, I take it as a compliment.