Written by Sam Cavalcanti, YDP
Middle school is a difficult, transitional phase, and one will seldom go through it without a few tears. One of the toughest facets of this stage is the increased pressure surrounding grades and academic performance. More abstract grading systems are replaced with quantifiable and volatile measurements, which the students constantly refresh on their computers and grading portals every day. This school year alone, I have heard “The teacher didn’t upgrade my grade yet!” or “I need to know my grade, but Mrs. What’s-her-name didn’t put my assignment up!” more times than I can count.
On a normal day, that pressure is already a handful for the still-developing brain, but add over a year of a worldwide pandemic, children getting re-accustomed to the classroom life, and an internet culture that increases the need for instant updates and the need to compare one’s success to others’, and you have a generation facing incomparable academic pressure.
So it’s no surprise to me that last week while watching over the patio at Boys and Girls Clubs JAMS Branch, I witnessed a sixth-grader sobbing over a homework assignment. More specifically, the Wi-Fi went out for a brief instant, and her homework was submitted while still incomplete. As adults, we know that a single homework assignment is, simply put, not a big deal. However, place yourself in the mind of a twelve-year-old in 2021, facing expectations from family, colleagues, and what seems, to them, like the whole world. Suddenly, the single percentage point that this student feared losing means everything.
Of course, another staff member and I both walked up to this student, assured her it would be okay, and encouraged her to speak to her teacher about it. It is important to remind students that we, whether educators or after-school staff or anything in between, are on their side. We want them to succeed. We want them to have high marks, and we want them to earn these marks in everything they do.
Behind every tear or tantrum is a very valid, very honest reason, and it is our duty to acknowledge the pressure these children are under and to treat each circumstance as the true battle that it is for the youth in question. “Trust me, your teacher will understand” goes a long way in assuring the student that the figures in their life are not unreasonable monsters. We shouldn’t be there to add to the pressure– we are there to guide them through it.