Everyone who has asked me what I’m doing for a job right now has a similar response when I tell them that I’m teaching junior high.

“Really? why? they’re so…awful….” – most people

“Seriously? Oh thats sucks, I would never do that.” – Cashier at Benefit makeup, where I was buying industrial strength under eye-concealer to hide the genetic defect of constant tirednesslookingness, enhanced by the very few hours of sleep I ever get now that I’m a frantic first year teacher who wakes herself up in the middle of the night wondering if I made an overhead of the new seating chart.

“Ew. You think they’re cute? ‘Cute and ‘Middle school’ should never be in the same sentence. Not even the same paragraph.” – Ry, my best friend, eeeeever the cynic. oh you.

“Oh. Wow. I’m sorry. Wish I could give you a discount for that.” Cashier at Safeway (I was buying bread, Excedrin and a bottle of wine at the time…might have tipped him off)

And yes, they are 11 or 12 or 13 years old, and they’re walking hormonal changes, and body odor is the overwhelming smell, and there is a larger spectrum of growth spurts and nervousness and intelligence and distractedness and awkwardness, more so than probably at any other society-enforced age-grouping you might ever again experience in your life. But I love them. I love them.

Some are bringing me homebaked goods, some are bringing me Chuck Norris jokes translated into Latin. Some are on the edge of their seats and practically hyperventilating to answer the questions I’m asking in class, some are drawing dragons eating their textbooks and some are doing Suduko puzzles under their desks (until I take them away those rotten monsters).

And some girls are waaaay too grown up, trying to hike their uniform skirts up, and curling their hair, and as much makeup as they can get away with, and could pass for 18….and some are still in that down-the-middle part, low ponytail, sweaty tendrils of hair everywhere, pimply stage.

And some of the boys are loading up on the Axe and trying their hardest to flirt with the girls, but they’re about a foot too short to even be noticed. While some are still in the “must get it done the fastest” stage of everything, and telling fart jokes, but still really want their teacher to notice them.

Actually they all really want their teacher to notice them. i think its this age of feeling so so weird that when anyone tells you that you got the answer right, or you’re smart, or hints that youre cool, you are just like “Really? Me? You think so? Oh awesome! I think you’re cool too! I love the clothes you wear, Miss Weight! I’ll do anything you say, Miss Weight! Can i do extra credit?! Can i take out the trash?! Can I get you water?!”

Besides the subjects I’m teaching, which I LOVE, and the staff I’m teaching with, who I adore, and a paycheck, I do really love these kids. Especially the ones that really really want to please, that want to succeed, that want to try so hard and listen to everything you say, and take it all so seriously. But even the weird ones that might never really fit in, even the ones that just dont get it, even the ones who think they’re too cool to try, I love them, too. They’ve all got a little joke they want to tell me, or light up when I ask for a high-five in the hallway, and they all raise their hand when I ask something like “Tell me about the time you had the bloodiest injury ever…”

they’re all so weird. and smelly. and trying to figure it out. and they feel like they’re always losing. and that they never get to win. and i think thats why i love them so much. Because I love an under dog. and everyone in junior high really is up against all odds, all the time. its a crazy place to be at in life. But someone’s got to root for them, and make them feel like winners, even when they’re all kinds of awkward crazy. We’ve all been there, and we all survived, and came out better on the other side, right? Which is like winning. so I’m glad I get to encourage these crazy kids for at least a year of their lives. Hold their spirits in my hands and smile. Its a gift. A privilege that their parents trust me with them.

So yeah, I love junior high kids. They are rotten stinking cuuuute.