My Middle School Experience, Summed Up in a Comic

Last summer, I was going back to grad school, and had to take a couple of “middle school” classes, despite having taught middle school for 13 years already. Yeah, thanks Illinois teacher licensure law… But anyways, as a project for one of the classes, I made a comic illustrating my middle school experience. I’m pretty proud of the result, and surprised that I never shared it here on the blog! Now seemed as good a time as any. I hand-drew the entire comic in pencil, then outlined and filled in the designs in black marker. I had an awesome time making this, and I’d love to do more comics like this.

I’m also including excerpts from a reflective essay that I wrote about middle school to accompany the comic pages below…

Middle School Comic

I graduated from MacArthur Middle School in Berkeley, Illinois in 1993. Our school mascot was the MacArthur “Redmen,” which was illustrated by a clip art image of an American Indian in a headdress - which I have also learned has since been changed to the less offensive “Generals.”

From the best of my memory, my school day consisted of a homeroom class, a two-period language arts class (I’m pretty sure one was called reading, and the other called language arts), one period each of science, social studies, math, physical education, and a rotating quarter-long elective class: music, visual arts, computers, and home economics. Somewhere in there was a lunch period, and I do remember that the grade levels were combined for lunch, which often provided for some interesting drama and love connections. Our school day seemed consistent in time to present day: beginning sometime between around 8:30, and ending around 3:30.

Middle School Comic

I spent all day every day with the same 25 (or so) other students, and we just traveled to different classrooms and different teachers for our different subjects. Our class makeup did not change for the entire school year. The only time we were with other classes was during physical education and during lunch.

I feel bad that I’m a middle school teacher and I do not remember a lot about my own teachers in middle school, other than the ones that I really liked, and the ones that were notoriously mean! I do remember that middle school was a time when I began to realize that there were certain teachers that would be more casual and “friend-like” with students, and others that seemed more distant, scary, and/or “stuffy.” I remember beginning to see favoritism between students and teachers, and trying to decipher the social cues that determined whether or not I could make myself become a “favorite.”

I remember being very aware of my appearance, and I like to joke to my current students that I had the “trifecta” of what was considered awful at the time: glasses, braces, and a bad perm! Trying to adjust to new expectations (showers in P.E.?!), and trying to fit in was a theme that started in 6th grade and kind of wove throughout my middle school experience.

Middle School Comic

The Hillside Mall (re-named West Point Center in 1992) was still in existence, and on a Friday night, we might be lucky enough to have a parent drop a group of us off to eat dinner at the food court, to browse the racks at Deb, take a stroll through Woolworths, or view the new releases at Rose Records. I dreamed of one day being cool enough to work at the record store in the mall.

Middle School Comic

I also remember middle school as being a very difficult time for me, socially. I remember spending a lot of time in the guidance counselor’s office. I liked getting to spend time talking to her, but I was embarrassed to have anyone find out that I was there. I suspect that I probably had some type of undiagnosed clinical depression, but my parents never sought out further help for me, and now as an adult, wish that I had at the time. But I was a kid - what did I know? I trusted my parents, and if they said that I was ok, who was I to question it?

Most of my social issues came from fellow females in middle school, and my own (lack of) self-confidence. I was a smart kid, and I’ve always been confident about being (book) smart, but that’s where it ended. I did not think very highly of myself from a physical/appearance standpoint, and during adolescence, when children are just discovering the opposite sex, this can be extremely detrimental. My self-confidence and awareness of my physical being declined horribly… and unfortunately, I also experienced the heartbreak of having an attractive, popular best friend who, upon deciding that I liked a boy, would promptly decide that she also liked him and would begin “dating” him (of course, in middle school, “dating” didn’t really mean much, except that you could call someone your girlfriend/boyfriend - you never actually went anywhere together).

*     *     *     *     *

Reading back over my reflection, it sure seems like middle school wasn’t that great. It’s interesting what we end up remembering from our experiences in childhood. I know that my high school experience wasn’t necessarily an improvement (see “Letter To My 16-Year Old Self”), but I also know that if I hadn’t had the experiences of my past, I would not be the person that I am today. And I’m pretty ok with that.

How was middle school for you? Do you remember much? What were the most significant experiences or relationships for you at that time?

Rock On,
Jen @ Hell Razor

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