Yesterday was a hard day.

Several weeks ago, I signed up as a volunteer proctor at Jacob & Austin’s school. The sales pitch was that parents were needed to hang out in the rooms during end of grade testing to make sure ne’er do wells didn’t cheat and that the teachers read the state-mandated testing instructions word-for-flippin-word (“Please make sure you have a no. 2 pencil. If you do not have a no. 2 pencil, I will provide one for you if you raise your hand. No, not your right hand. Your left hand. And you must raise it at a 45 degree angle. What do you mean you don’t know what a 45 degree angle is? This is an end of grade test for geometry, you moronic imbecilic children.”)

I thought that it would be an easy way to volunteer, to give back, to get involved, to sit in a quiet room for three hours and read a good book or maybe play on The Twitter, glancing up occasionally to make sure the kiddies weren’t passing notes or constructing pipe bombs.

But no. Fast forward to yesterday morning, when I showed up for my proctoring orientation. Here are the proctoring rules, in no particular order:

  1. You may not read a book.
  2. You may not play on The Twitter.
  3. You may not do anything except pace around the room mindlessly for three no four no FOUR AND A HALF hours staring off into space and believing you’re going to go out of your ever-loving mind because you’ve never ever been this bored and thanking the sweet Lord above that you no longer have to take math exams because dadgummit those questions look hard.
  4. Oh, and we may pull a very sneaky bait and switch and put you with eighth graders.

That’s right. Apparently there’s a middle school attached to my high schoolers place of education. I signed up believing I would work with high schoolers, who have gotten to the point in their lives where their brain has re-developed and they don’t smell like a mixture of cheese fries and Axe body spray. But no. I was assigned to an EIGHTH GRADE CLASSROOM. Which was partially filled with EIGHTH GRADE BOYS. Who, as everyone knows, cease to be a productive member of society until the aforementioned brain re-develops.

Before you write angry comments, you should know that I’ve owned a couple of eighth grade boys. In another few years I’ll have another eighth grade boy living under my roof. And if anything I’ve said so far rubs you the wrong way, you need to go out and meet an eighth grade boy and then instead of writing angry comments you’ll nominate me for president, because you realize the vast and copious amounts of wisdom that is contained in my skull.

But I digress. I walked toward the insane asylum eighth grade boy classroom, praying that I wouldn’t get shoved into a locker or given a swirlie or any other thing that may or may not have happened to me in eighth grade. And as I entered, my worst fears came true: the eighth grade boys were indeed still there and had not been shipped off to a detention facility.

Watching the poor teacher try to distribute exams and read testing instructions was somewhat like watching a young butterfly trying to bring order to a pack of rabid hyenas. The eighth grade boys asked stupid questions. They made stupid noises. They acted out stupid motions. They did stupid things.

And because I distinctly remembered the fine print in the proctoring instructions that warned me against the use of tazers, I sat there helplessly.

But finally, the teacher got it through their thick skulls that if any of the testing rules (no talking, no cheating, no hand to hand combat with the test proctor) were violated, it would be considered a “misadministration” of the exam and they’d have to come back to retake it, the hooligans finally settled down and began filling in their dots.

And so, for the next several hours, I paced. I walked. I watched. I fell asleep standing up. I read every single poster on the wall (If You Can Believe It, You Can Achieve It!). I counted the planks in the floor (82). I felt my outlawed phone buzzing in my pocket, alerting me to life that was being lived and live-texted by friends outside the walls.

And I realized that – out of all the unenviable jobs in the world – middle school teachers have to rank at the very top. Here’s a formula for how we should set middle school teachers’ salaries: Take what they’re currently making. Multiply it by 20. Double that. Add $100,000 to it. And whatever answer you come up with ought to cover the first year of their therapy bills for their PTSD treatment.

Finally, the last kid finished the exam. But because we had to follow state-mandated instructions, the kids still had to sit there quietly. Which – if you know eighth grade boys – means that they certainly did not sit there quietly. So for another hour, the teacher and I pretended to maintain control, even though we both knew that at any minute these wild children could overtake the room, haul us off to the biology lab, and disassemble our persons and sell the parts on E-Bay.

At the end of my shift, the teacher thanked me for my time. And then he very innocently asked, “So are you back with us tomorrow?”

I’ve never run so fast in all my life.

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…or at least that was the famous saying of a student pastor I used to work with. His theory was that we never really leave behind the self-concious insecure zit-focused weirdness that seems to punctuate the lives of 6th-8th graders everywhere. And I think I agree with him.

Last Friday night I spoke at the Summit’s first ever Middle School Retreat (apparently based solely on my expertise as being a middle schooler myself, once). The topic was “Identity” out of Ephesians 2, and my goal was to try to help kids understand that for the believer, our identity was established at the cross. We are not the hats and personas we try on; we are the workmanship of Jesus Christ. His righteousness is what God sees when he looks at us. For that reason, we no longer have to worry about whether others accept us. Because God has already accepted us, it gives us the opportunity to go on the offensive and accept others and see them reconciled to the gospel.

And man, that sounded so, so good. I felt downright spiritual. I was tossing out gospel truths like they were butterscotch disks at a Christmas parade. I was telling these kids something that would change their lives forever.

But meanwhile, back at the ranch…

As you know, we just moved to a new neighborhood. And prior to this neighborhood, we lived out in the country. Way out in the country. So our sum total of the rural Halloween experience was either (a) hiking into town and pretending to live in a “real” neighborhood so we could go trick or treating, (b) going to eat dinner at Pizza Hut and trying to ignore the merriment and mirth and potential satanic graveyard sacrifices at midnight that was going on all around us, or (c) protecting our rural home from the onslaught of rural Halloween-themed practical jokes, the main one involving a rural flaming brown paper sack filled with rural…things.

So the suburban Halloween experience has been new for us. One of the main things we’ve noticed is a neighborhood phenomenon known as “You’ve Been Booed.” The way You’ve Been Booed works is that a neighbor sneaks onto your porch in the middle of the night, leaves a little bucket full of candy and treats and a You’ve Been Booed sign, and as long as the suburban squirrels don’t discover it by morning, you get to take the You’ve Been Booed sign and hang it on your door, signifying that you have great relational value and intrinsic human worth in the neighborhood.

Well, I’ve been seeing these You’ve Been Booed signs on doors all over the ‘hood. And I kept thinking, “We don’t have a You’ve Been Booed sign. Nobody has left us a You’ve Been Booed sign. Without a You’ve Been Booed sign, we’re probably cementing our non-popularity status for the duration of our mortgage. I MUST GET A YOU’VE BEEN BOOED SIGN EVEN IF I HAVE TO PRINT IT MYSELF.”

And so imagine my delight when I woke up on Saturday morning (less than 12 hours after telling middle schoolers that their worth is found in Jesus) and saw a glimmer of an orange bucket sitting on the front porch. I threw open the door, shooed away the suburban squirrels, and paraded the bounty back into the house, announcing to my family “WE’VE BEEN BOOED! WE’VE BEEN BOOED! THEY LIKE US! THEY REALLY LIKE US!” (Okay, I didn’t actually announce it that way, mainly because half the family was still asleep and I wanted first crack at the candy.)

Pathetic.

In the time it took me to tape the coveted You’ve Been Booed sign on the front door, I discovered that in the depths of my heart I’m still an insecure 7th grader. I still care way too much what other people think of me. My sense of identity is not found in how God sees me, but in how people with a stash of fun sized Snickers bars see me.

How about you? What’s your best example of how you’ve never left middle school? Comment below.