As I start to type this blog, I feel nervous because there are so many topics that one can discuss when teaching English to seventh graders. I could talk about all of the activities and projects we have done thus far, or I could talk about our lesson plans and stories; all of that is great, and I strive to reach all of our English goals this year. However, that is not going to be my focus here today. Today, I am going to talk about my students, what I have learned from being a middle school teacher over the past five years, and what I continue to learn in this profession every day. I want to talk about why middle school is the BEST age group to teach.
My favorite professor in college once asked one of my education classes how many of us wanted to teach middle school. Not one person raised a hand that morning. He looked unsurprised and said, “That’s what I expected.” Confused, the other future educators looked around, wondering why this was considered the norm. Most of the people there had made up their minds; they were going to teach young elementary aged kids fifth grade or younger, or they were planning on teaching high school, no younger than ninth grade. That left the middle school age group in the dark, forgotten. You see, it is a cliché that even I fell into. Why would I ever subject myself to that age group? I remember that age. I honestly don’t want any part of the pre-teen angst and hormones, most definitely not! I will gladly teach third or fourth graders, and be completely happy. At the time, I was student teaching third graders. Messy, sweet, loving, hyperactive eight or nine year olds. When I thought of middle school aged kids, I thought to myself that they would not be sweet, they would be eye-rollers, they wouldn’t get excited about projects anymore, and I thought they would just be plain difficult.
I will never forget what my favorite professor spoke of teaching middle school. He told us how when he had first started teaching, he found himself teaching sixth grade. He told us how he, too, was thinking, What have I gotten myself into? Then, he said, “My mind was completely changed over time.” He told us all about how the kids at that age need us the most. They need guidance. They need leadership. They need people to listen to them, hear them. They need us just as much, if not more than, a younger student. He talked about how funny they were, witty, kind-hearted. Yes, there would be negativity from time to time, but overall, he said that it was the best age group to teach. He left us that evening with just one last request: Please do not write off teaching middle school. Consider it.
Fast forward to graduating college, and immediately going on interviews to become a first year teacher. I had options, and of course, like others, thought my calling was elementary education. Then, I can’t explain it, but my heart changed course. I found myself never forgetting what my professor told us that day. I decided I needed to be in a middle school setting. I found myself wanting to teach those kids. Help those kids. All I have to say is, my professor was right about everything.
This is now my sixth year teaching middle school. I have never taught any other age group. I know this is where I belong. Let me tell you something about middle schoolers. They get a bad rap. When I am asked by people what grade I teach, the reaction is often, “Wow, I could never teach that age. What a horrible age.” Often, I laugh and say, “They keep me on my toes!” or simply, “I enjoy them.” On the inside, I am thinking to myself that it is an unfortunate label these kids are given. “Hormonal.” “Bratty.” “Terrible.” It isn’t fair. Let me tell you the truth about these kids.
- Middle school kids still want, seek, and need approval from adults. They want the teacher to tell them “Great job today!” They want the positive re-enforcement. They still love stickers on their work. They still draw you pictures. They still love to hear “Happy birthday.” They still want to tell you stories. Just because on the outside, they try to look grown, on the inside, they are still children. I don’t care if they are sixth, seventh, or eighth graders, these students need to know that their teachers deeply care about them. If they sense that you do not care as a teacher, that’s when they give up on you altogether. That’s when they give up on your class, too.
- Not only do students appreciate positive re-enforcement, they also appreciate the tough love. Let me be specific. Tough. Love. When you build a relationship with a middle school-aged child, and they trust you, when they do something wrong, they understand when you have to discipline them. Yes, they may get angry or upset with you, but normally, in the end, they love you for it because you
- Adults can often forget how it feels to be 11, 12, or 13. It is a constant struggle between being a young child and wanting to gain independence. If you just try to empathize, and remember your own struggles during that time, you can really get on their levels, and they will love you for that. I have learned that these students often bring their personal problems into the classroom. They haven’t gained the skills we have with being able to go to work and not let our personal problems get in the way. It all starts with relationship building. Your classroom can be their haven away from their problems, and they are able to focus better, knowing you are on their team, not against them. Building relationships with middle school students is the key to everything. They will respect you, if they trust you.
In the end, I want to tell anyone reading this that teaching middle school is a learning experience every day. I never know what I am going to hear or see next, and it definitely keeps my career interesting, to say the least. Whether it is a student passing a note during silent lunch on their dinner roll with a sharpie (yes, this happened), or a child wearing two different colored shoes on the wrong feet entirely, I am constantly smiling. When a child comes and hugs me a grade or two older and tells me how much they loved my class, I know. I know when I see their grade improve after struggling for so long. When they are engaged, enjoying, and smiling in my class while working in groups, I know. When a child comes to me upset and just needs to talk, I know. When a student asks me to come to their graduation one day, I know. I know inside that I made the right decision teaching this age group. I know this is where I am meant to be.
I am excited to be here at LMS this year. I am excited to build relationships, get to know the students, and hopefully leave them with the knowledge that being in the middle is okay and a learning process that we have all been through. I hope I can leave an impact with these kids like my professor left on me. I hope they feel approved of, but most of all, loved. “The best teachers teach from the heart, not the book.” Middle school students can steal your heart if you let them. They truly are the best kids to teach.
My professor was right: middle school students need us the most. But, if I’m being totally honest, I need them, too.
Ms. Covington – 7th Grade ELA