Saturday, March 16, 2019

Mentoring Eighth Graders: What Would You Say?

LUCY BURDETTE: One of my fabulous sisters-in-law, Lisa Leonard, is a fifth/sixth grade French teacher in Maine. She was visiting last summer and somehow we got onto the subject of the six things she was attempting to impress upon/teach a dozen eighth grade students that she was responsible for mentoring. 

I don’t remember much from 8th grade aside from supreme social angst, and hiding GONE WITH THE WIND in my textbook because I had to see what happened. So I imagine I would have loved smart tips from a teacher like her.  These were her six important tips on life:

Shake hands—firmly, while looking the person in the eye.

Learn how to hold a conversation—it’s like ping-pong, back and forth, not all about you.

Life is going to have bumps—you have to ride them out.

And three were driving safety related:

Wear your seatbelt.

Do NOT text and drive or ride with someone who’s texting while driving.

Do not drive while drinking or with someone who’s been drinking.

Now it's your turn. Supposing you were charged with mentoring 8th graders (I know, eek!), what are six or fewer things you'd want them to hear?


  1. What wonderful advice . . . .
    I’d add:
    Be kind.
    Work hard; do your share.
    Be honest; be fair.
    Always do your best.
    Give others the benefit of the doubt.
    Do unto others . . . .

  2. That's a hard list to top for sure.

    Care for others
    It's not about what happens to you, it's about how you react to it
    Remember that actions truly do speak louder than words. Both yours and others
    If you aren't having fun, you are doing it wrong

    1. I like those, Mark! Especially the last one - we tend to drive our kids hard these days to achieve and compete (at least those of us who can't afford to bribe coaches to get them into good colleges ;-/ ) and it's good to remind them they ought to be having fun at this stage of life.

    2. Honestly, I think we should be having some fun at every stage of life.

  3. There IS life after high school....prepare for it.
    Find your passion, then figure out how to make a living doing it.
    You never know what subjects in school are useless and which will save you someday.
    Read everything you can on any subject....

  4. Great advice!

    My grandson is graduating from eighth grade in June, and as a surprise his mom and dad asked me and his grandfather to write a one-sentence piece of advice for him. Our combined message will appear in a box in his yearbook.

    Mine was: You can only learn when you are not the one speaking.

    1. Karen, my grandmother used to say, "You have two ears and one mouth so you listen twice as much as you speak."

  5. One piece of advice; only one.
    During the next four years of high school a lot of people will try to put a label of their own choosing on you. Don't let them. You are not the sum total of the opinions of other people.

  6. Oh my gosh, you all are so wonderful, and so early in the morning! We need to get all this wisdom collected in a little booklet...

  7. Never say or write something about someone you wouldn't say to their face.

  8. Sometimes it is incredibly rewarding to do a really difficult thing… The good things aren’t always easy. If you are unhappy, see what you can do to make someone else happier , and then see how you feel. Treat others as you would want to be treated. Speak truth to power. Always always always do your best, no matter whether it’s a tiny task or a large one. Be a team player, Contribute, listen, compromise, enjoy. Share. Don’t forget to be happy.

  9. Your body is just fine.
    Be kind.
    Tell the truth (with kindness), and also listen deeply.
    Ignore those who are not kind to you.

  10. I'm going to re-contribute one of Joan's--give other people the benefit of the doubt--life is not all about you all the time--that frown on someone's face might mean they are having a really bad day, not that they don't like the way you look. The lack of an instant reply to a text or lack of a like or whatever on the latest messaging platform, doesn't mean your friend/sister/significant other is mad at you. Maybe they're just busy, or asleep, or in class!

  11. You will always know kids who get better grades, and are more talented musicians, athletes, and artists. Find your own niche and explore it.

    Remember when you had braces, glasses, and funny looking hair? Be kind to others.

    In four years, you'll be eligible to register to vote. Your vote is your voice.

    And all the usual admonitions about drink, drugs, and driving and the right to say no.

    A counselor told me once that parents should tell their kids everything about sex, drugs, and alcohol while in middle school. Once kids hit high school, it's too late.

  12. Oh, man! Eighth graders are hard! I mentor high school students who are preparing to step out on their own and carve college/professional careers for themselves. My three rules there are: Show up on time; always bring your A-game; don't be a jerk.

    But for eighth graders? Maybe that it's not how you feel, it's what you do that is important. You may feel stupid or angry or shy or terrified, but if you do the kind, generous, responsible thing, you'll be fine.

    And yes, I'll second Edith: Your body is just fine.

    Also, never say anything to yourself that you wouldn't tell your best friend, face-to-face. You would never tell her that she's ugly or stupid or hopeless. So don't tell yourself those nasty things, either.

  13. I know it feels like everyone is looking at you, but most of the time, most people are too caught up in their own issues to have any energy left over to judge you.

    Every human you meet has intrinsic value. Never see just "a janitor," or "a waitress", but a person who is currently doing a job but has a full life, just like you.

    The occasional short-term benefit of being a jerk fades fast while the good feeling inside from being kind lasts forever.

    No one succeeds at everything. If you stumble, get back up. Don't let failures or fear of failure define you nor keep you from trying new things.

  14. This is all wonderful advice.
    I would only add, Always wear sunscreen.

  15. In addition to what's been said:

    You're going to fail. A lot. And that's okay, because failure is where the learning happens. Don't let the failures keep you from doing what you love. In the words of Winston Churchill, "Never, never, never, ever give up."

  16. As an ex scout leader, I live and encourage people to :
    Do your best, deserve trust, protect life.
    Be the sister or brother of everyone, help them, share with them, spread enjoyment,
    And adding : follow your instinct and work to achieve your dreams.

  17. What a great list to start and what great responses. My first thought, like several others, was: Be kind. (8th graders usually aren't)

  18. Great advice!
    Yes, all advice related to "do unto others..."
    And life is long, you don't have to know all the answers now

  19. My favorite, which just about everyone else here has said, is Be Kind. That’s a good foundation for everything else.

    (What I remember most about eighth grade is that I hated it. And I was a good student.)


  20. Don’t you think this is a manifesto of amazing advice?? I love your comments. Thank you!

  21. Love all of the comments above! And I agree with your post, especially the texting and driving. I would also add "not talking on the phone while driving". When I drive, I have to focus 100 percent on the road and always be on the look out for drivers who do not always follow driving laws. I have seen drivers run through the red light!

    My favorite is Be KInd. Thinking about the eighth grade being really difficult with growing pains. I would add "You never know what the other person is going through. Be kind." And it is OK to say NO when a "friend" is trying to get you to do something dangerous and you know it is dangerous!

    Be polite, even if you do not like someone.


  22. My 8th grade godchild and I have been having a lot of conversations lately around some of these issues, mainly that 8th grade girls are difficult at best, and that high school will be better. Her 14th birthday is next week. I think I will take all this fabulous advice and try to do something artsy with it as a present for her. She is a wonderful girl and deserves to hear all of it!

  23. Thank you for the reminder. Life IS long and knowing all the answers is highly over-rated, in my opinion!

  24. Wow! What a timely topic. I am an 8th grade Reading teacher, and I’m going to share what I try to impart to everyone of my students.
    You are beautiful.
    You are smart.
    You are important.
    Everyone has a gift; maybe you just haven’t discovered yours yet.
    You are loved, no matter what it seems like now.
    I love you.
    You can tell me anything, and I won’t judge or tell, as long as a.) you are not being hurt, b.) No one is hurting you, and c.) you are not going to hurt yourself
    What’s the right thing to do?

    Hope some of this helps!

  25. Having coached 3rd through 8th graders at various points over the course of 25 years, I think I did do at least a part time mentoring job.

    I don't know that the line about life having lumps ride them out is something that gets reinforced in the schools. I've noticed that lately the schools have this perverted notion that the kids need to be told that nothing in life will ever go wrong for them. I once got into an argument with a teacher about that particular point.

    Denis Leary had a counterpoint to the argument of everything coming up roses. It was part of his stand up routine..."Life's gonna suck when you grow sucks pretty bad right now". I admit, not the most positive outlook but it at least has more realism than "Nothing will ever go wrong for you!"

    I didn't offer my players any shopworn life advice while I was coaching them. I tried to lead by example. By that I mean, I didn't show up to practices or games hung over or still drunk. I always showed up on time. I gave them a set of expectations and set about giving them the tools to go about meeting them. I never got arrested. And in my book the most important thing was that I never lied to them.

    In case my point in the above paragraph isn't clear, those are all things that happened over the course of my time coaching with other coaches. I could go into detail but you get the point.

    I had some of my players go into coaching after their playing days ended. Some of them even coached with me. One is an assistant coach at the local high school. Some won state championships. One player became a doctor, one became a teacher. Another is a social worker. Others run their own businesses or have settled into the regular day in day out life that we all lead. I don't really say it to them but I'm proud to see that they've turned out well.

    Of course, the flip side is that some of those that I've coached have gone on to become drug addicts, alcoholics, drug dealers, car jackers, domestic abusers, DUI's, fugitives from the law, rapists and murderers. So, I guess my lead by example notion didn't quite take with them.

    So I guess in a long winded kind of way, I'm saying that I don't have any particular ideas to offer or add to those others here have given already. I do know that I'm glad that I'm not in the position of having to come up with any ideas to pass along these days though. It's hard to imagine the reception from those 8th graders of the moment.

    1. Jay, you should tell the ones that turned out well that you're proud of them. I'm sure it would mean a lot to them.

  26. Such great advice from everyone. I think "Be Kind", to yourself and others, is paramount. And stand up for yourself. Find something you really really love and work hard at it.

    Always try to put yourself in other people's shoes.

    Being popular in middle school has absolutely no bearing on how happy and successful you can be in your life.

    And READ!!!

    1. Oh my gosh! How did I forget to say "read'! Yes, yes and yes! Read.

  27. This is not quite 8th grade but the lesson still stands. Even into adulthood.

  28. The family motto of the frat house in which I reside is: Own your bullsh*t, so we pretty much live by that.
    To expand, I'd say try to be a good person but don't expect to be perfect. You will screw up and when you do, own it. Make it right. Once you apologize and make amends it is on the other person to accept it or not. Don't beat yourself up about it. Read. Travel. Try new things. Always reach out to others in friendship. Remember it's not all about you. Be kind.

  29. Eighth grade students were my favorites to teach . . . such energy and enthusiasm! More than anything, I think they needed encouragement to develop and share their talents, and to know they were admired and loved.
    My room was filled with extra materials and projects to be used when an assignment was completed (which an assistant principal first described as clutter until she figured it out). Idle hands and minds do turn to mischief, whereas random resources can spark creativity.