Unless you are a professional athlete, pop star, or Pokémon champion, the students in grade 7 aren’t that interested in your title. After six and a half years as Director of Learning for the Society of Christian Schools in British Columbia, I am using my professional leave to fill Mrs. Friesen’s maternity leave in middle school until June.

I learned a few lessons after being schooled by the 7A class over the past month:

1. I am not Mrs. Friesen.

Mr. S., that’s not how we do it.” “Mr. S., Mrs. Friesen told us to do it this way.”Mr. S., Mrs. Friesen knew how to do that; how come you don’t?” If I was ripe for an identity crisis, I would have had it in the first two days back after spring break.

2.Classroom teachers are extreme athletes.

Six and a half years ago, I was skinnier than I am now. I always attributed the change to age. In the first few days after spring break, I was reminded that maybe it was my occupational choice that was keeping me in shape. Not many professions put you in a state where you are so busy making decisions, bringing resolution to social conflict, analyzing learning data, bandaging a skinned knee, drying tears, and planning and implementing lessons that you realize at the end of the day you’ve walked 16,000 steps while forgetting to use the washroom or eat lunch. It might no be the equivalent of a marathon, but it feels pretty close.

3. Learning spaces matter.

I have had the privilege of teaching in five schools over my career. Not once have I had the opportunity to teach in a space as nice as our new middle school wing. If we want to embrace Christian Deeper Learning, projects, and all other forms of real work meeting a real need, it’s easier in great spaces. The new wing allows staff and students flexible spaces, tailored to the type of learning taking place, whether it is wheeling a table into the large common area at the end of the hall to spread out around a major project, complete a Zoom call with a local expert in a collaboration room, or meet in small group to review a good book. The new middle school wing with the flexibility of the removable wall (i.e. garage door) is an excellent learning space that makes flexibility as simple as the flip of a switch.

4. The students don’t need me at the front of the room.

I know stuff. The students assume that, but they know that Mr. Google knows more. Where the real learning takes place is when we sit side by side exploring our impact on God’s creation and what responsibility we have in the choices we make. When students grapple with different answers to a multiple step math question and come up with a strategy to check to see who is right, even if it takes multiple attempts. When we all live and practice the learning target which states: “I can be gracious giving and receiving feedback” because, I have definitely received my share of feedback. My favourite comment from a student was, Mr. Spyksma, I am not that confident in you; do you mind if I see the answer key?”

5. There is hope for the future.

I don’t know a lot of seventh graders right now, but as I get to know this group, I receive the gift of hope. This group knows how to have fun, and though they struggle to keep their mouths closed at times, they are learning to not take themselves so seriously while thinking about others. Through the inevitable grade 7 spring fever and social anxiety of the early teen years, this group wants to spend time in prayer, be responsible in their faith through caring for the environment, do well at school, and genuinely love to learn in community. On a good day, they are even willing to disagree, with respect and a willingness to listen.

There’s some exciting learning coming our way in grade 7 for the rest of the year. Working with the City of Abbotsford, we’ll be making development proposals and completing an ecological health assessment of a local park. If my first month is any indication, the ACS grade 7 classes are ready.

Here’s hoping as they enter grade 8, their next teacher might hear, “Excuse me, but that’s not how Mr. S. did it.