I always tell my students to surround themselves with positive people. “Sit next to studious peers. Hang out with people who don’t do drugs on weekends,” I sagely advise. I encourage students to make friends with classmates that will help them memorize the elements on the periodic table, the causes of the French Revolution, and the fact that the correct answer is usually b. I fully believe that you pick up on the habits of those around you.

And then I realize that I’ve surrounded myself with middle-schoolers. Not good.

I’m turning into them! I’m suddenly listening to hip-hop stations, wherein the singers are half my age. (Do you know that Will Smith’s DAUGHTER has an album out?!? Isn’t she, like, three?) Why did I just write “like” into that sentence? Oh yeah, the 180 bad influences I interact with each day.

I am seriously appalled by my behavior at staff meetings. I whip out my phone to change my Facebook status when the principal isn’t watching. I roll my eyes and dramatically mime slitting my throat when a co-teacher glances my way. I stare at the clock longingly and wonder if a well-timed “bathroom” break will help me get through the next hour. I embody everything I despise in my student’s behavior.

It’s not my fault. I’m delimited by negative influences.

I repeat everything three times now, even when talking to my friends. It’s a vestige of saying “turn to page 421…yes, 421…that’s page 421…it’s on the board, page 421…go get a book and open to 421…” every hour on the hour. Non-phrases like omg, lol, and even lmao are appearing in my own spoken and texted vernacular.

But of course there are good things about being influenced by middle school children. I’ve rediscovered the seriously underrated world of young adult literature. I watch my students drop everything for a friend who’s in need. Say what you want about ‘mean girls,’ but bonds of middle-school friendship can cut pretty deep as well. I look at my students and see myself in them. I remember the insecurity. I remember being positive that I would never get a boyfriend, or travel, or see anything pretty in the mirror. And just as life opened up for me after fifteen, it will for them too.

Maybe being influenced by my middle schoolers isn’t so bad after all. Even so, I’d better take a year off and travel – just to make sure.