Monday afternoon, a student enters my room, ready to complete an assessment that’s been looming over his head for quite some time. Before we began, he said to me:
“Mrs. Burton, I think you should’ve done your hair a different way on Friday. It looked weird.”
I’m serious. An 8th grade boy was giving me hair advice. And he had clearly been so disturbed by the messy bun I donned while competing in a school-wide dodgeball tournament on Friday that it haunted him over the weekend and on to Monday. I joke because honestly, I could have been hurt by his comments (seriously, I can be such a crybaby about things–teachers have feelings, too!). Instead, I learned a very valuable lesson.
Because, at it turns out, this same student had been bullied for his new haircut even though you 1) never would have guessed he did it himself and 2) never would have guessed it was done with farm equipment (really, he uses a cattle shears).
Middle school deals out so many cringe-worthy and awkward situations. We need to embrace it to survive. It’s actually kind of inspiring to see how brave my students can be as they experience the growing pains of middle school on such a public platform. Their vulnerability and their courage as they stumble around, trying to find out who they are and to be comfortable with it should be admired! They are unapologetically themselves, even as they try on different hats, different personalities, different styles and face criticism and judgment for doing so. And they need role models who aren’t afraid to do the same. So, when that student came into my room, plopped down onto a chair, and offered unwarranted hair advice?
I could have scolded him for being rude and demanded an apology. I could have stoically ignored the comment and told him to be silent and take his test.
But instead, we had a good laugh. I threw my hair up into the same messy bun and said, “If this is too distracting for you while you take that test, I can put my hair back down. But I kind of like it up there; it helps me think.” He granted me permission to keep it up and went on to perform amazingly on his assessment.*
This morning, I passed that student in the hall. I flipped my hair and asked, “How does it look today?” He smiled with approval, but I highly doubt he really cares about my hair.
*power of the messy bun, see?