How Teaching 8th Grade Helped Me Through Divorce

“I don’t get it,” one of my coworkers said to me the other day, “All of a sudden I have a bunch of kids failing that have always been A or B students!”

“That’s normal this time of year,” I explained, “As high school looms ever closer, some of them express their fear through self-sabotage. Others regress and become more immature. Some become clingy, like preschoolers holding tight to a parent’s leg. It’s a big transition and they’re scared. But only a few are ready to articulate it, face it and step up responsibility. It’s our job to help them all get there.”

Teaching 8th grade is like tending to hundreds of metamorphizing pupa. With attitude. Sometimes LOTS of attitude. It can get messy and yet the end results make it all worth it.

The year is all about transition. From child to adult. From parent’s control to self-control. From being told what to do to making decisions. From being shielded to facing consequences. From passing off liability to shouldering responsibility.

And transition is always hard.

Not just for teenagers.

For all of us.

I’ve been in a unique position to observe thousands of young people undergo transitions over my career. It allows me to interpolate trends and analyze patterns.

Patterns that hold true for anyone undergoing transition.

Transition is Messy

I used to have a snake, a small Kenyan sand boa. He was generally docile except when he was preparing to shed his skin to account for his expanding body. For several days a few time a year, he became irritable. Short-tempered. He would demand food and then turn his nose up at the offerings. Once his old skin was peeled off like a soiled tube sock left on the floor, he would again return to his amicable self. Until the next growth spurt.

Transition is messy. Dirty. Often ugly. It’s rarely a smooth process and never a linear one. The movies make it seem like it’s easy to go from ugly duckling to sensational swan in a few challenging moments and a short montage set to great music. The movies lie. The reality is much longer and more difficult than many of us realize.

And those undergoing transition can be difficult to live with (especially if it’s yourself!).

They’re irritable. Short-tempered. Demanding.

But that’s only because they’re confused. Scared. Uncomfortable.

Because transition is hard.


It can be scary to reach for new heights. And sometimes it’s easier to act as though you couldn’t do it rather than try and risk failing. It’s common for people in transition to hamstring themselves, to make decisions and act on impulses that are in opposition to their stated goals. It’s a way of staying comfortable.

It’s the student refusing to turn in assignments. It’s the recovering alcoholic taking a job at a nightclub. The woman trying to save her marriage flirting with her coworker. The newly divorced constantly complaining about the ex. The newly dating turning all of their energy towards work and wondering why new relationships continue to falter.


In order to make a life transition, you have to first let go of your former life. It’s an act of great courage and great faith. And before many are ready to take that leap, they respond to the idea of letting go by holding on ever-tighter.

Sometimes the grasping may latch onto something or someone in the present that is a stand-in for something or someone from the past. This can be a flash-in-the-pan rebound relationship or the sudden and overwhelming attachment to a new hobby or habit.


Periods of growth are often preceded by periods of retraction, as the increased vulnerability of change prompts a desire to be taken care of and protected. Many people who have two or children are familiar with this tendency as they watched their toddler revert to diapers or preschooler beg for the bottle upon the birth of a new baby. It’s a lot of responsibility to be the “big one” and sometimes we all just want somebody to take care of everything.

It’s okay to need and seek extra help during times of transition. In fact, that’s completely normal and healthy. Be careful not to become too dependent for too long; however, or you risk giving up control of your life.

Taking Risks

Transition is a time when you’re neither here nor there. It’s a time of changing boundaries and it’s natural to explore where those boundaries now lie. When nothing is certain, everything feels possible and it’s exciting to explore a world where limitations don’t seem to exist.

Risks still have consequences. It’s great to explore. But please, take your brain with you!

Acceptance of Past

This is one conversation I wish I never had to have with a student again. And yet, every year, I have to have it with several. Some of my kids have had the misfortune to have absent parents. Or abusive ones. Or they’ve just had way too much happen to them at a young age. And I have the frank conversation with those kids that they are coming up on the age where they have to decide if that’s going to hold them back or if they’re going to succeed in spite of it.

And that’s a huge part of transition – accepting the parts you cannot control and taking responsibility for those you can.


Transition often starts with “I can’t.” Because you can see where you’ve been and you struggle to imagine where you’re going. But with every step taken with courage and faith, confidence is built.

My favorite part of watching people in transition is seeing the growth in confidence. I love observing “I can’t” morph into “Look what I did!” and “I got this!”

Transition is Temporary

When my former students visit or write and I get to see the results of those difficult days, it makes it all worth it. Transition is temporary. It doesn’t last. You outlast it. Emerging bruised and battered. And also better.

Thank you for sharing!

7 thoughts on “How Teaching 8th Grade Helped Me Through Divorce

  1. David & Laura Speer – United States – Were a Metro Detroit, Michigan, couple – second marriages for both of us – and we dream of retiring early to Travel the World. Follow us while we try and figure out to raise our kids, and save to retire. David is a Robot Programmer, Laura is a Medical Physicist. We put our kids before ourselves for years, saved and ate at home and now after years of all this sacrifice and raising our kids - we are closing in on empty nesting, and we realized we have the opportunity to retire earlier than most and follow our dreams to travel the world. How are we going to do this? Well we have a lot of ideas, but lets see how it works out. Our original retirement date was January 1, 2021. We are reviewing the option of working another 3 years but prefer to keep the 2021 date, either way we will be retired by 55 years old - still trying to figure out how, but working toward our goal everyday, while enjoying each other and our blended family. Follow us to see what happens. All images on this blog are copyright (c)
    Laura (I Can Do It) says:

    Nice read, very interesting.

  2. Thank you. Your words are teaching me how to be patient and accepting, of myself. I am no marathon runner, I want things done and sorted yesterday… yet … time doesn’t heal, but is needed to heal. And move on. x

    1. So true:) I had to learn patience myself. In fact, that’s actually one reason I signed up to do a marathon- it forces the lesson! I like your wise words about time – doesn’t heal but needed to heal. So true!!

  3. DiscerningDivorce – Georgia – Try to imagine this world… Separating families get the education, information and assistance they need to understand all of their options, and to work out their own divorce settlement agreements, before they begin litigation in the courts. Or if litigation has already begun, they agree to put it on hold while they get the help they need to resolve their own problems as quickly, privately, conveniently and cost-effectively as possible. My name is Cynthia Patton. I’m a lawyer and a Georgia Supreme Court Registered Neutral (Mediator). I’ve practiced divorce and family law in Georgia for more than 15 years. In the courtroom, you give up your privacy, control of your future, your time and a lot of your money. But you don’t have to do that. Profile: Attorney Cynthia Patton Lawyer, Mediator, Small Business Owner, Legal Instructor Attorney Patton’s practice has focused on divorce and family law matters at non-profit and private law firms until she founded the Law Firm of Cynthia L. Patton PC in January, 2007. She was recognized as one of Georgia’s Top Lawyers in 2009, is a Georgia Supreme Court Registered Neutral (mediator), has completed Guardian ad Litem required training, and taught the Family Law course in the Paralegal Program at North Metro Technical College. In 2015, Attorney Patton launched Discerning Divorce, Inc. with the intent of disrupting the divorce world.
    DiscerningDivorce says:

    Great and timely post for the new year! This reminds me of the 5Cs that I learned from dog agility trainer and world champion, Susan Garrett. Interestingly, I apply her lessons to my life as well as my dog training: awaken Consciousness (evaluate your current situation), create Clarity (identify specific goals and behaviors); build Confidence (by experiencing small successes); introduce Challenges (to get you to the next level); grow Capability (keep practicing).

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