It had been a lazy summer vacation for Mostafa. Boring rather. 9 weeks were too long for the 11 year old.
Mostafa always found it rather difficult to find common ground with his classmates – he was not into football and the boys did not talk about anything else. He did not fancy shared excitement of watching YouTube clips of Mo Salah score a penalty or Messi take a corner kick; consequently he missed out on the camaraderie that develops during play-dates and club-meetings of young football lovers.
Mostafa liked to watch movies, all kinds of movies and mimic accents of various characters – cowboys, knights, Italian mafia, aliens… He craved for some audience, even an audience of 1 would suffice; but found himself alone in this hobby. Therefore, he had been looking forward to school re-opening – he would at least be able to talk with his table-partner!
He went back-to-school shopping along with his parents, patiently tried out various uniform sizes to find the one that fitted his growing frame, and organized his school bag. His parents were optimistic with these signals of academic interest; after all, their son was entering middle school and had to get “more serious about his studies”.
Mostafa had never been a shy child, nor was he the one to pity himself for lack of a large friend circle. The first day of middle school, he stood out with his creative class participation, especially during Literature and History lessons. He enjoyed ICT too, which held promise of interesting projects. It was a good start, overall.
Yet, as the term progressed, some things began to change. It was Year 6, the year of Cambridge Checkpoint Exams – teachers were making effort to instill greater discipline among students by giving tests at the end of every topic. In primary school, the tests were not as frequent and Mostafa did not recollect having had to study for any of those tests. In English, the writing tasks got longer; although Mostafa had a rich set of vocabulary and creative ideas, he struggled to express cogently, expand his ideas and organise them in neat paragraphs. New concepts were introduced in Math whose real-life-relevance, he could not comprehend. Science had fewer experiments than he had expected – it was more about theories. Even ICT projects had to follow a prescribed structure and the whole idea of thinking within a structure was alien to the boy! Mostafa had been a creative boy, whose individuality had endeared him to primary school teachers. Till last year, he had been graded to possess “desired” Math and “advanced” literary skills. But in Middle School, Mostafa, felt like a fish out of water.
And then there were other things – an unsaid hierarchy was forming within his class – the footballers who were respected by all, the cool gang who respected the footballers yet were carving their own position as challengers of rules, the savvy ones who did their homework, were polite to the teachers and never complained about either footballers or the cool gang. Then there were a few outliers, like Mostafa. Actually only one in Year 6B. Mostafa.
The Darwinian Theory began to kick in within the boy who was too big (and sweaty) to be cute, too sluggish to be athletic, too pacifist to challenge rules and too unstructured to be savvy. What should he be? Who should Mostafa be to survive? Should he be a fly in the corner? And then, he decided! The new role was a writing on the wall. He would be the class-clown!
The boy worked hard to slip into the role of a class clown. All his creativity, new found desire for acceptance, his helplessness with increasing academic demands, his resentment towards his parents’ nagging… all of it found a vent in perfecting the role of a class clown. Alas! There was no applause.
Teachers were annoyed at his abrupt questions which disrupted lessons. The savvy ones expressed their disapproval for being a nuisance. The footballers patronised him at most, and the cool gang shunned him because he was stealing their thunder. They all sensed his desperation to belong and diligently denied that acceptance that the boy longed for. Mostafa got deeper into academic mess and began to abhor school by the end of term one. No one really understood why this creative, endearing boy began to go into a shell. Maybe, no one tried enough…
Children need to be guided into Middle School. Academically, there is a considerable jump from Primary School. New subjects are introduced. Teaching approach becomes more structured and even close-ended in some subjects; there are greater expectations from writing tasks in terms of preciseness of spellings and grammar. There are new subject specific terminology that have to be understood. Exams are graded and their frequency increases markedly.
In addition, students are moving towards adolescence – they become more conscious of their place in community, begin to perceive hierarchies, become more sensitive towards praise or criticism, cope with physical changes, and amidst all this they try to figure out who they are and where they will be. These Middle-Schoolers who have begun to look big, who often talk aggressively, who say that Math is irrelevant or Shakespeare has no point – these Middle-Schoolers are mere overgrown children struggling to answer “Where is ‘me’”? They need mentoring for a smooth transition into a new phase of life.
For Mostafa, it is still term two. Hopefully, he will find help in time.