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The Secret to Surviving 6th Grade, Gym Class and Bullies

Our columnist admits that in 6th grade, he was one of the ones "left on the outside looking in."

I stepped off the bus, walked into and stood there looking like a deer in the headlights. The place was huge and scary. Loud, unfamiliar noises came from super-sized kids from the far away land of 7th and 8th grade.

I walked to the 6th grade hallway and frantically tried to make my way to the end of the hall. My locker was almost dead last and I steeled myself for the gauntlet. I wasn’t sure why but it felt like everything slowed to a crawl and people stopped to watch the small, big eared boy in Wal-Mart shoes walk by.

The smiles and waves thrown out to kids I had been friends with just a few months earlier were met with the rolling of eyes and quickly turned backs. I was really confused as to what was going on. I didn’t understand what had changed and it took me a few days to realize what had changed.

At some point during the summer a message went out over the airwaves or telepathically to almost all the incoming 6th graders about what was cool and what was no longer cool. Several of us did not get that message and it showed! Those of us who did not have our antennas up were left on the outside looking in.

To top that off, the worst part of the day was coming, looming, hovering over me and I didn’t even know it. What once had been a super fun class that we all looked forward to now turned into a hell of prepubescent slings and arrows. 

Gym class.

And not just any gym class, this was gym class with locker rooms and lockers.  Those lockers were to hold the clothes that we came to school in, while we wore our gym clothes. And that meant that we had to change out of our old clothes and into our new ones. And that meant doing so in front of OTHER people!

Up until this point in my life, the only other male I had ever changed in front of was my dad. And that was ok, because it was my dad. He didn’t count. But now I had to change clothes in this large, smelly room in front of all these other boys. Some of them looked like they were miniature men. They had muscles and mustaches (scraggly, yes. But mustaches none the less), and wore deodorant. They looked down on the rest of us little boys with such smugness that I could actually feel myself age backwards.

Oh and after we got out of that place and actually got to go do fun stuff, they made us go back! And we had to repeat the whole process over again!!!

Walking out of my first actual gym class, I wandered into the second worst part of my day in a haze. I looked up to realize that I was in the cafeteria, searching, looking for a place to sit. Where were my friends? I couldn’t find them.

I had to get my lunch by myself! Once my lunch was in hand, I stood at the front of the lunchroom scanning the crowd for a friendly face. My eyes locking in on features, registering them as friendlies or non-friendlies.

Just as my heart almost stopped due to an explosion of panic I saw them, my oasis in the desert: my friends. We were a rag tag team of outcasts. And I don’t mean that in some nostalgic or romanticized version of memory—we were really outcasts.

So we came together.

Unfortunately, a group of dork 6th graders can attract attention. And me being the smallest of them attracted the attention of one idiot 8th grader who shall not be named here. Let us call him Moron. Moron was much bigger than I was and had no empathy. Moron decided that he was going to make my 6th grade year a living hell. And he almost succeeded.

For weeks and months he tormented me whenever he saw me.  I didn’t just sit back and allow it either. I had a big mouth that liked to spout off in the wrong moments. My quick barbs either went over his head or caused him to bully that much more. Either way, it sucked.

Eventually it all stopped because an observant teacher saw what was taking place and put an end to it all. Just as an aside, I saw Moron several years later.  And guess what? He hadn’t grown an inch but I had. I had grown quite a bit actually.

And I made sure that our shoulders met as we passed by each other. 

Those first few weeks and even months of my 6th grade year were difficult. And many of you have students that will have similar experiences. Many of you have students that won’t have any problems but for those that do let me tell you what got me through that time:

Parents who listened.

There were many times I came home to a snack waiting for me and a mom with a tender heart. She sat and listened to my day, the good and bad. She would offer a warm hug when it was needed, sound advice and sometimes space. Dad would come home and give me advice on dealing with a bully, on what to do when it got heated. He would tell me that no matter what happened I would never get in trouble at home for defending myself and that he was proud of me for walking away when I could.

Because I had parents that would listen to me, and I mean really hear me, I was able to deal with those early difficulties with confidence.

Now, understand they also contacted the school and I had regular meetings with my school counselor and they worked together to make life much better for me. And I also understand that today’s bullying can be much more severe and cruel than it was then, but the main point is that my parents stopped what they were doing and listened to my problems.

Middle school is such a huge transition time in the life of your child. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll look at ways to help your student in transition, whether it’s socially or academically. But the very first and I believe most important piece of advice I have for you is to listen! It may not seem like a big deal compared to your grown up world of real life problems and stress, but for your child this is real life. Their problems and their stress is every bit as real as ours.

I’m not sure who originally said this, but a parent friend of mine posted this on her Facebook wall this week and I can’t think of a better way to end this post!

Get in their world today so that in ten years they’ll still let you in theirs.

Rich Pope August 23, 2012 at 02:54 PM
The only way to handle a bully is to punch his lights out. Your parents should have taught you how to fight long before you got into Middle School.

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