Written by: Boot Bullwinkle
Middle school is a world filled with voice cracks, awkward social interactions and oversized backpacks. A buffer of the raging hormones that swirl around with the joys of puberty, middle school prepares students for high school and the maturity of adolescence.
As I complete my education in Palo Alto and prepare myself for adulthood, I decided to take a journey back into the past: Just for a day, I decided to be an eighth grader once again.
I returned to my alma mater Terman Middle School and was graciously greeted by the principal, Katherine Baker, who paired me up with eighth-grader Jackson. I was to follow and shadow Jackson and his class schedule for the day, while also socializing with the students I encountered during my classes, passing periods, brunch and lunch. I was essentially a 6-foot middle schooler with a cannon of a dodge ball throw—but we’ll get to that later.
Instead of starting my day at 9:36 a.m. and ending at 12:51 p.m. on Tuesdays, my day would last from 8:05 a.m. to 3:05 p.m. As cheerful as I could possibly be with having to wake up an hour and a half before my normal 9:15 a.m. wake up time, I began my day as a middle schooler in Mr. Helsaple’s U.S. history class. I sat down in my desk that was in the front corner of the classroom, and I pretended like I couldn’t hear the whispers and murmurings that flowed through the classroom. The rumor mill quieted down, and I was treated to a fun game of Jeopardy that was focused on the beginnings of U.S. independence.
All was fine and well as I joined in a few giggles and adjusted to my chair, which I was grateful to have as it was detached from the desk. I was marveling at the comfort of the blue plastic chair and tapping my fingers in the cubby that sat below the desk, when suddenly my name was called.
“Boot, what is the definition of bartering?” Helsaple asked me. I was suddenly alert and felt the wide judging eyes of 20 eighth graders. Of course I knew the definition of bartering, but what if I was wrong? What if I was laughed at by middle school kids?
After what felt like five minutes, I blurted out my answer: “To trade things!” It certainly wasn’t the Merrian- Webster of definitions, but it was correct nonetheless. I had gained 200 points for my team, and that was all that mattered. Feeling even more comfortable in my blue plastic chair, I was beginning to settle into my day as a middle schooler.
Next up in my day was English. Now, I mean no disrespect to Ms. Duffy or anyone in the class, but I was so incredibly tired. It was probably just the day of silent reading time, but I spent the better part of that period fighting to stay awake and lamenting on the fact that I wouldn’t even have woken up yet if my school day was at Gunn.
At the sound of the bell, I was dealt my first social challenge at brunch. I followed Jackson to the J-Wing where flocks of students fumbled at their lockers. Adorned with magnetic mirrors, pictures of friends and half of Office Depot, it amazed me that the students were still able to fit their oversized backpacks and lunch boxes amongst the disarray.
Bewildered by each student’s own personal portal to Narnia, I was caught off guard when a group of middle schoolers flocked me. Clearly my three weeks of hard-earned stubble weren’t enough to scare them off. Word must have spread that there was a high school student on campus, because I was flocked by students asking me questions about high school and even about college (that question really can’t be avoided, can it?).
I was happy to answer their questions, but I really wanted to know what middle school life was like. Having gone through it, just like everyone else, I definitely had moments of happiness, sadness and plenty of awkwardness. But none of that was as apparent so far—at least at surface level.
The next period was Home Economics. Mrs. Salmon with her Southern hospitality was incredibly gracious and welcoming to me, while she instructed her class on how to make teddy bear biscuits. The biscuits gave me a much needed sugar boost to get me through my extended day. Just as I was leaving, Mrs. Salmon also gave me a homemade cake pop that I savored like Charlie Bucket.
As I sat in class, the conversations were extremely loud and fast paced. I remained relatively quiet as my eyes darted back in forth between the speakers like a ping-pong match. It was utterly impossible to absorb everything that was said, but I was quite content that there was still gossip being flung around.
It wasn’t bullying by any means, but it was fun to listen to middle school students complain about homework and the struggles of their social life as 13 year olds. I was particularly amused that eighth graders have more homework than I do as a second-semester senior.
L u n c h c a m e around, and I decided to see if I could find the inside scoop by talking to my favorite teacher Ms. Gross. With lunchtime dwindling away, I said goodbye to Ms. Gross and went to rejoin Jackson and his group of friends.
They were a great group of kids who were very willing to include me in their reindeer games. We laughed and joked for five minutes as we played basketball in the gym, but the festivities were rudely interrupted by the bell. I wasn’t terribly upset though, because physical education (P.E.) was next, and that could only mean one thing: dodge ball.
As the students went to change in the locker room, I stayed out in the gym to stretch and prepare myself. Headshots are completely legal in Terman dodge ball, and I had no intent of holding back. In my Sperry’s and chinos, I lined up against the wall of the gym. At the sound of the whistle, chaos was unleashed. I was ripping balls as hard as I could at the scampering middle school kids and making flamboyant dodges to stay out of prison. With sweat pouring down my face, the kids were sent back into the locker room to change before the bell rang.
My last period of my middle school day was math in Algebra 1. It was a little anticlimactic, but it was a nice way to relax and reflect on my day. I was pleasantly surprised by the attitude of the kids. They were all very outgoing and really friendly to me, but they were also incredibly bright and hilarious. I’m not saying that I would ever return to my middle school years again, but I’m very glad to have had the chance to see life through a middle school student’s eyes once again.