When I made the decision to enter the teaching profession, I had a lot of cute images in my mind. Cubbies filled with stickered papers and lunchboxes. Handcrafted student artwork of rainbows and stars adorning my desk. There would be mini chairs and tables, juice boxes at snack time, story time (god, I couldn't wait for story time!) morning circle, and literacy centers. You get the picture, I was imagining a career in elementary school. That's not exactly what happened.
During my second round of education classes I took a methods in science class with a middle school teacher that was one of the best. He came to the teaching profession as some phenomenal teachers do, off a side road, and rather by chance than a deliberate decision. He started out teaching a different content area and age group than ever intended, but after a few years could imagine doing nothing else. He is a teacher that not only continues to stay informed on best practices but he has had a positive impact on kids lives aside from the content area he teaches. After taking a class with this teacher, I felt the first small itch that maybe I'd like to work in middle school.
It was an itch that I, very quickly, decided should be ignored. Nine out of ten people will cringe when you tell them you work with middle schoolers, most of them will at least credit you for your bravery. When the above mentioned teacher told me he thought I'd be great in middle school, I cringed too. No, no, I thought, you've got me all wrong, I'll take a booger eater tripping on his shoelaces over a pre-teen tucked inside his hoodie with a scowl on his face, anyday! Thanks, but not so much.
Well here I am now, a middle school science teacher, and I must tell you, it is not cringe-worthy. I've actually found adolescents to be raher endearing. Alright, appearance wise, they don't strike the "aww" chord quite the same way as a kindergarten kid does, but I see some form of cuteness in them, and I have a theory as to why.
Once kids hit about sixth grade, maybe sooner, they suddenly identify within themselves that they no longer have the "cute kid" factor going for them. Let's face it, adults are not drawn towards helping and interacting with pre teens. So, I have seen that they develop quirky little personalities, all of a sudden in middle school. As they lose the cute kid looks, they develop a sense of humor and character that allow them to continue interacting with adults in a positive way. Adolescents are very witty. Their problem solving skills also escalate to a higher level. The middle school classroom is an amazing place to watch critical thinking skills develop and huge interpersonal growth take place. The fact that I can be a part of it makes me feel like I have the best job ever!
There's another reason why I want to work with middle schoolers. Many of us remember this as a tricky time in our lives. It is a time for lots of changes and challenges. Social grouping and peer pressure feel more intense. Suddenly siblings are more annoying than ever and parents seem more stubborn. There's all the normal difficulties of growing up, but today they are exacerbated by the social system, which I believe leaves these kids vulnerable to feeling very isolated. Sometimes the only real adult conversation they have all day takes place at school.
As teachers, we put so much effort into lesson plans, assessments, classroom management and professional development. All of those things are really important. I want to see all of my students become scientifically literate and continue learning into college and their careers. But the real value in teaching for me comes from the relationships, which sounds a bit odd if you know me, I'm somewhat of an introvert.
As a consequence of our fast paced, digital iEverything age, we tend to forget the value of meaningful, face to face interaction. I have to admit, that having a really great lesson with all students engaged is a motivating factor for me, it drives me as an educator. But the relationships fulfill me in a much deeper way. It's the difference between handing a student a graded paper that says 100% versus This is a really thoughtful paper, you're work is always improving! Which would mean more to you?