Emily Goldberg began at Nueva in March, joining our community as the middle school counselor. We chatted with Emily about her hopes and goals in her new role, her path to Nueva, and what she loves about working with middle school students.
Jim Morrison: As a community, we are so thrilled to have you join our middle school team in support of our students and families. What are your hopes and goals for the remainder of this year?
Emily Goldberg: I am absolutely thrilled to be here. I had originally imagined—having joined the community so late in the school year—that I might do a lot of observing and seeing how the school operates, letting people get used to me and comfortable with me, but that hasn’t exactly been what’s happened, which I am grateful for. The students and my new colleagues have allowed me to jump right in and get involved with the life of the school, and I am loving it. For the remainder of the year, I’m hoping to make myself even more widely known as a resource for all sorts of things, whether it’s a quick check-in with a student having a rough day, a parent wanting some advice about social media use for their kids, or a teacher expressing concerns for a student’s sudden lack of engagement. If the people I interact with over the course of the last few weeks of school feel like I am a safe person, and represent a safe space, then my greatest hope will have been realized. Well, that and not having any more cardboard taking up space in my apartment.
JM: What do you feel are the biggest strengths and resources you will bring to our community in the years to come?
EG: I don’t know what I’d identify as my biggest strengths or resources, but I do know that helping kids feel seen, heard, and understood is my dream job. No two kids are alike, no two families are alike, and I learn from other people every single day. Because I know I don’t have all the answers, I listen very carefully to what people tell me. I honor who people are as individuals, and I encourage them to honor themselves, too. I try to help kids and parents recognize and celebrate their strengths, and I try to help them be less judgmental of themselves.
JM: I heard that you had quite an adventurous (and windy) road trip as you relocated from Denver to the Bay Area. What are some memories from your trip that will stay with you and your family for years to come? Have you adjusted to being so much closer to sea level?
EG: I think it was W. C. Fields who said, “Never work with animals or children,” and I might change the word “work” to “travel.” Our (adult) kids were not on this trip with us, but our two cats and a dog were, and that was more than enough. They all did fine on the drive itself, but whenever we stopped for the night, they turned into those rock bands you hear about that damage hotel rooms to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. A particularly difficult morning had us taking a king-size bed apart to retrieve one of the cats who had clawed his way into the ripped-open box springs. We may need to rename the cat Keith Richards.
I am happily adjusted to being at sea level once again, after almost three years in the mile-high city. I’m sure I will regret saying this, but I missed humidity.
JM: What are some adventures or destinations you are looking forward to experiencing as a new Californian?
EG: I grew up on the East Coast and spent a lot of time living in the Midwest, so national parks were not really bucket list items for me. But I have now lived in nine different states and just the act of moving from one part of the country to another has fueled my awe at all the natural beauty this country has to offer. So, one of the things my husband and I would really like to do is visit all nine of the state’s national parks—which you undoubtedly know is more than any other single state. I’ve also heard the nighttime tour of Alcatraz is totally worth it.
JM: Jerry Garcia famously said of the Grateful Dead, “We're like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice.” This describes my experience teaching middle school for the better part of the last two decades. The folks who thrive working with middle school students do it because they love it and feel at home with students; they are “middle school people.” Why do you love working with middle school students?
EG: I love licorice, and I don’t mean the red stuff that’s not really licorice. But this is a great question. Before I had kids of my own, I didn’t really like for life to be messy. I personally am a slob, but I didn’t like life itself to be messy and chaotic and unpredictable. Then I had kids, and I had to learn to tolerate the messiness. Eventually I learned to embrace it and love it.
Middle school is messy, and chaotic, and unpredictable. A lot of people don’t like that, which I completely understand. But this age group is just so full of energy and spirit and awkwardness and fun. These kids are basically experiencing every single human emotion in a body that is changing and with a brain that is constantly developing. Add being gifted to the mix, and truly, it’s a miracle these kids function at all—or their parents for that matter. But the fact is, they do function, and they come to school, and they’re still at an age where they care about the opinions of the adults in their lives. They are sponges and are just trying to figure it all out and who they want to be, so for me every day is new and different and challenging and just plain fun.
JM: In your letter to the middle school community, you spoke about your two sons, one of whom is currently studying music in Chicago and the other who—having recently graduated with a degree in physics—is working at a job that you really don’t understand. As a parent, what advice can you offer me and other parents about supporting our children on whatever path they choose, especially when we might not fully understand the nuances of their daily dilemmas and needs for support?
EG: Okay, full disclosure: I can give lots of great advice about the best or most effective or least damaging ways of supporting our children, but even I don’t do it right one hundred percent of the time. I make a lot of mistakes. I know that because my kids point it out to me. What I try to do, and what I know is the right thing to do, is honor my kids for who they are and where they are. That is really, really hard when they are doing things I wouldn’t do, or wish they wouldn’t do. Of course, I’m not talking about safety issues—there’s no negotiating those. But kids at this age are trying to figure things out and grow their confidence. So if they come home saying something like, “Sally isn’t my best friend anymore because she said she’s friends with Jimmy and I hate Jimmy,” it might be tempting to explain that healthy friendships don’t work that way. Instead, just listen, without judgment, and without advice (unless your child directly asks for it).
Honor their feelings. This will help them in so many ways. First, your child will feel heard, and that’s huge. Secondly, there may be more to the story, but if you start talking and stop listening, you won’t get to hear the rest and may be making lots of assumptions about the situation. Third, by not rushing in to fix the problem, you are also letting your child know that you have faith in them to solve it on their own. Often, when we jump in with our advice, we are giving our kids the message that we don’t think they’re ready to handle that kind of independence, and that’s not the message we want to give them. It will likely make them feel less confident in their own abilities. Perhaps the most important reason to listen to your child without judgment is so they will trust you and continue to open up to you, so that when the issue is bigger and potentially much more difficult than Sally being friends with Jimmy, they will still come to you.
JM: When you are not jumping into a hugely important role and moving your family to a brand new area, what are some of your hobbies, interests, and favorite ways to pass your time?
EG: My favorite thing to do is hang out with my family, no matter what we’re doing. (I did not feel that way when my kids were in middle school, by the way.) I also love to read, binge-watch all kinds of shows, travel, take photos—and now that we live here, lots and lots of walks on the beach.