Friday, October 12, 2012

The Transition from Cooties to Couples

Yes, I'm back with more observations from Project People-Watch: Junior High Edition.

For the last several years, I've been at a school where I've mainly been working with the older high school kids—anywhere from 16 to 21 years old. Even when I had 8th and 9th graders, it was such a tiny school that the dynamics weren't always what most teenagers would consider typical.

Now I'm back in a large public school. I have one 8th grade class (smaller, honors) and five 9th grade classes (large, full spectrum from overachievers to strugglers to I-don't-cares). Those 9th graders are top of the heap at this school, but would have been among the youngest I taught previously, so it's an interesting perspective.

The most interesting thing, regardless of class, is to watch what various students (and groups of students) do during a stretch of free time at the end of class.

The 8th grade class has The Great Wall of Gender Divide running down the middle of it. They chose their own seats, and it's girls on the right, boys on the left. During free time, the girls will talk—about play practice, homework and events in other classes, whatever. The boys will play cards.

One exception is a girl and boy who sit next to each other on the divide. The girl will alternate chatting and joking around with him, and chatting with the other girls. Don't know the history there, but the pair seem like they've been friends for a long time.

The only further mingling is a type I saw just this week after they all finished their tests. Several girls asked if they could draw on the whiteboard. (Last day before break—why not?) One of the girls favors the in-state rival over the more local college team. The boys take exception to that. So when she drew her team's logo on the board, it turned into a bit of a battle.

The rest of the girls continued doodling funny faces and writing names in fancy scripts.

Then there are the 9th grade classes. During free time (or even homework time), there are four major groups, with a few people who float between them.

First there are the girls sticking with girls, much like my 8th grade class. They gravitate to their friends in the class and chat about things from the silly to the serious.

Then there are the boys who stick with boys. Again like my 8th graders, card games are often popular, or some of the puzzles I keep in the classroom. They chat, too ... more likely about sports, video games, and such.

The other two groups are those where girls and guys intermingle, much more commonly than with my 8th graders. My gut tells me there are two distinct groups here, but the difference is hard to describe.

I guess I'd say one group is the Flirts, and the other is the Friends. That's not to say there isn't flirting and crushing going on amongst the Friends, but it's somehow less obvious, not the be-all end-all of their interactions. With the Friends, I see more genuine talking, less posturing.

With the Flirts, one glance tells me this guy is trying to be clever or smooth as a way of showing off, trying to impress the girl. The girl is laughing and acting cute as can be to keep him at it.

At any rate, I don't see anything like the Flirts in my 8th grade class. Aside from the one exceptional pair, I don't see the Friends there, either. Maybe because of its size? Just the dynamics of the people in there? Or the age, and what a difference a year makes?

Some possibilities to keep in mind if I ever write characters quite so young.

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