“Bless you. That’s something I could never do.”
That’s usually the response when someone asks about my occupation and I tell them that I’m a middle school teacher.
The students, sometimes, have similar responses. “Why don’t you want to teach at the high school?”
Sometimes, I think they’re testing me. They want to know whether I really want to be at a middle school. They want to see whether I’m going to jump ship at the first chance.
My response is, usually, “I’m perfectly happy teaching where I teach.”
Occasionally I’ll tell them I love middle school. I do. But, I’ve really realized what it is that I love about middle school. It’s the development in the students.
That’s why I really love teaching 8th graders. They’ve been in the school for three years and teachers and staff have taught them school subjects and life lessons. Now, they’re on the verge of the big change to high school. They like random debates and conversations on everything from iPhones and Fortnite to listing the top 10 superheroes.
One of my 8th graders said she had to tell me something earlier this year.
“I didn’t like you very much when I was in 6th grade,” she said. I asked her why.
“Because I kept getting in trouble for talking,” she said.
I asked, “Were you talking?” And, she said, “Yes.”
But that’s not where the conversation ended. She said that I was now one of her favorite teachers because, no matter what she did, I still talked to her everyday as if nothing had happened the day before.
That’s why I teach middle school. It’s not so that I can be someone’s “favorite” teacher. It’s because I enjoy seeing what can change in the life of a student in the years between 6th and 8th grade.
I think that’s been one of the challenges of teaching this year. Creating that dynamic in a classroom is more difficult because of absences and quarantines and virtual learning. It’s tougher to build that mentoring relationship with students.
During this past year, I’ve thought a lot about students. I wondered how they were making it during the pandemic and in the days school buildings were shut down. I worry and pray when I see news of shootings near the neighborhoods where they live.
In the same sense, the pandemic has made me a better teacher. I’m practicing my empathy skills more and trying to see things from what students are going through. I remind myself that, often, when a student expresses anger at you, it’s not really about you.
I try to surprise students when I talk to them. When I take a student out into the hallway for a moment to check up with them, I’m asking questions, such as, “You seem really upset today. Is something going on today?” Sometimes, the sheer honesty in their responses amazes me. It helps me to remember that some of our students are carrying tremendous burdens with them each day.
Now, I’m in my fourth year at a middle school and I realize that what I enjoy seeing most in students has been happening to me.
I’ve grown so much as a teacher in four years.
So, I hope to stick around middle school for a few more years. There’s so many students I get to see moving toward their future.
Why would I want to miss it?