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Warning: This article does contain spoilers for the movie, Eighth Grade
The movie, Eighth grade, is the most realistic portrayal of a socially awkward middle school girl I’ve ever seen. The movie follows Kayla (played by Elsie Fisher) through the last few weeks of her 8th grade school year as she prepares to start high school. This is a movie every teacher of adolescents should see as it gives an honest portrayal of growing up in a time when your entire life is filtered and recorded, and acceptance comes in terms of the number of likes and follows you get.
This movie nails the YouTube generation.
Do you know how many of my students ask me to subscribe to them on Youtube?!?
The writer of this movie, Bo Burnham, definitely did his research on what middle schoolers do for fun. Much like most of the students I teach in middle school, Kayla enjoys creating YouTube videos. Her videos offer her a sort of therapeutic way of figuring the world out. They are filled with advice about being confident, stepping outside your comfort zone, and why it’s important not to judge people (all skills she is “working on”). If you can get past all the “ummms, likes, and whatevers,” You see that Kayla is a wise and kind human being. But alas, she is a middle school girl and these values matter very little when you want to be liked by the popular girls and your crush, Aiden (who hilariously moves in slow motion to a sexy soundtrack whenever he arrives on screen).It is a painful reminder of how torturous puberty can be. Click To Tweet
A benefit of seeing this movie for teachers is it will remind them about the horrifying and embarrassing confusion that is puberty. We all went through it, but some of us may need reminding of how terribly awkward this time is for students. The bad skin, the braces with food stuck in them, the ill-fitting clothing, all of the horrors. The awkwardness was captured in so many scenes, that I found myself covering my eyes and whispering “make it stop,” throughout the film. One example was a pool party scene, where Kayla was the only girl in a one-piece suit, moving stiffly and awkwardly around the pool, surrounded by girls laughing and playing in bikinis. This is a situation I remember from middle school but had conveniently blocked until now.
Luckily, for a lot of us, puberty in the 90s wasn’t recorded and made public, thank God.
This movie also reminds us that girls go through hormonal changes too!
So many movies have portrayed the male coming of age, sexual arousal experience. This film is different in that it captures all of the heart-achingly awkward moments of this time period for girls, including a scene where she tells her crush she has “nudes” on her phone in the hopes of getting his attention. Not to mention the horribly awkward scene of her holding a banana that she is about to practice oral sex on when her dad enters and says, “I thought you hated bananas?” Then there’s the scene that made my stomach turn; Kayla is in the backseat of a car with an older boy who dares her to take her shirt off during a game of truth or dare. Through all of these scenes, you are reminded how difficult growing up really is and how confusing it is to figure out the balance of what your hormones want, and what the right thing to do is.
This movie highlights the importance of patient and caring adults.
Throughout the movie, Kayla fights with her dad, who is clearly just trying to have a relationship with her. She is constantly telling him to “please knock” and to “leave her alone” throughout the movie. Towards the end, they have a moment of understanding and we see how important relationships with parents (or any adult who cares, for that matter) are during this time, and how frustrating it can be for both students and parents. What we can learn from Kayla’s dad, is how important it is to be patient with adolescents. No matter how many times they push you away, or how rude they can be, it is so important not to give up on them. This is a time when they need caring adults to help guide them through this tumultuous time, even if they won’t admit it.
I highly recommend this movie to anyone teaching middle school or early high school students. It is like looking through the lenses of a student and seeing and feeling what they do every day.
I really enjoyed it, and would love to hear what other educators thought!