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In intermediate school a grin-and-bear-it style smooths the way for students and teachers

By Richard ArmourSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / October 4, 1982



What caught my eye (my eye catches easily) when I entered the school was a display of a dozen or more pictures of students. One wall of the waiting room near the principal's office was almost covered with them.

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I thought they must be pictures of winners or honorees of some sort, perhaps outstanding athletes or top students. But as I got closer, I noticed there were no names by the pictures, nor was there any mention of what these students had achieved.

Later, when I had a pleasantly informal meeting with the principal, the assistant principal, and an English teacher I had met before, I learned that these were photos taken in a photography class.

This was my introduction to what is now called an intermediate school, seventh and eighth grades. The word ''intermediate'' is quite appropriate. As I soon learned, the students in such a school are adolescents - midway between children and adults, though on the move to the latter. Having written a book called ''Through Darkest Adolescence,'' I was familiar with the territory, though more as witnessed out of school than in school.

I asked these leaders of the school about what problems they were encountering. They looked at each other and smiled. After a brief interchange, they were laughing. Yes, there were problems, they told me, but they enjoyed the challenge of trying to solve them. One thing that helped them, I could see, was their sense of humor.

They all enjoyed their work, or struggle. When it came to education, they preferred seventh and eighth graders to any others. They were fascinated and perhaps stimulated by the students' sudden shifts from negative to positive, from acceptance to rejection. One minute students would think and act like young adults; the next they would act like young children. There was an impelling, emotional drive about these unexplainable shifts.

As one of my interviewees told me, ''If we could bottle up their energy, there would be no energy crisis.''

Though there was some unhappiness about students' ineptness in the basics, especially writing, there was satisfaction with many of their accomplishments - in and out of the classroom. Maybe they chewed gum too much, leaving wads on chairs and floors and increasing maintenance costs, but they also dressed and acted like ladies and gentlemen at the formal dances arranged by the school six nights a year, with 400 to 500 of the 1,000 students attending.

Even with regard to the ability to write, there was hope. More and more students are taking work in journalism, attending writing workshops, and studying foreign languages instead of carpentering and home economics.

Just as they seem to be moving toward culture, they give evidence of concern about the application of an abstraction such as justice to the actuality of the everyday world. Thus a popular course involves stimulation-simulation. This can mean, for instance, simulating a crime and then following it up with participation of students in the process of law, going through the court procedure as judge, members of the jury, or attorneys for prosecution or defense. This is given additional realism when students visit a court when a trial is in process.

I am going back to this intermediate school to learn more about what are the problems of education and their solution in ''quicksilver'' adolescent days. Administrators and teachers must be quick if the silver is to shine.

At the moment, however, I am encouraged. I am glad those who deal with adolescents in school are so understanding, so eager to handle the problems that arise - and still able to laugh