Monday, January 3, 2011

New Guy at School, Once Again: Urbandale 1971

I'm thinking about how I started 7th grade in Iowa, how we moved mid-year from Tennessee to Des Moines (Urbandale) and, once again, I was a new guy at school. I'd been a new guy before and so it wasn't traumatic or unusual for me. I'd started kindergarten in Sioux Falls, the 1st grade in Vancouver. We'd moved mid-year from Washington to the little town of Jonesborough, TN during my 4th grade and I adapted to those very strange surroundings. Then, while in Tennessee, I'd changed schools from Jonesborough to the Cherokee county school and then the Johnson City school before Iowa. Still, there's an oddness and stigma to be new, especially in mid-year.
I started attending the 7th grade at Urbandale Junior High (now it's called middle school, I believe) right before the Xmas break, but we didn't move into our house till the new year so in many ways I started the first of the year. I recall within my first day I had some girl pass me a note from some other girl who wanted me to "like"her, she described herself and where she sat in this class, etc etc. I was new. I didn't know what to make of it, so, I ignored it. She and her friend--who had passed the note--then took a disliking to me for, really, about the rest of my years in that school system. Huh. I was assigned a locker and my locker mates--two false tough kids--didn't care for that, so they changed the locks on me, threw my stuff out, etc. I complained and got that settled--don't remember exactly how. I was not adverse to fighting, physically, but did find that I was a bit cowed by all the newness in this new world--not just the new school, but entering into that phase of life known as adolescence. I think middle school is probably the worst years of a person's life, in many ways. This was before they tried to educate kids (and parents) about the difficulties and changes, about the steep pitfalls that befall many young people in those years.
The school systems themselves were quite different. In Tennessee, I was used to regular rooms and then going to classes. Academic expectations were not high. I was basically in a country system, full of rural boys and girls. In Iowa, they had open classrooms, where we all gathered together then split up into sections within a giant room to be taught separate subjects. They were further along than I was and I had become shy, internal, subdued by it all. I tolerated school. I felt more displaced than I had--in many ways--than in Tennessee, even and still longed for the days on the west coast in Washington (which I still considered my true home).
But more than anything, I think it was just the physical and hormonal changes that affected me in those days and the years to come, until about the end of my senior year or even a year or tow after--for me, probably until about the ages of 19 or 20, believe it or not.
It still amazes me to come across teens who are self-confident and capable, who engage well with both adults and their peers. I get ticked off when I see movies--or, less often, read books--about teens or pre-teens who are crafty and quick-witted, who confound adults and the adult world and can accomplish many things (perhaps that's why these teen movies are popular, they provide the fantasy of being able to outwit and outshine the adult world). To this day I such find such confident teen behavior--whether fictionalized or empirically derived--abnormal and always expect teenagers to be shy and clumsy and to do very stupid things.
Maybe that was just me.

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