“Oh wow. I could never work with kids that age.”
“Yikes. Middle school was the worst for me. I can’t imagine ever setting foot in a middle school again.”
I usually respond with a quick laugh and try to think of some cleverly snarky response. Every time I find myself in one of these conversations, however, I’m always left feeling somewhat defeated. There’s never enough time to convey why I do what I do, so this forum seems like the perfect opportunity to share what I’d really like to say:
I love teaching middle school, from the bottom of my heart. No two days are the same, and I can’t imagine working in a career where the trajectory of my day was predictable. While my lessons are planned ahead of time, the way that I teach my content changes from class to class, and even from child to child. I have to think on my feet and will often change my lesson on the fly to reflect a question a student asked or just because I read something cool in the news that morning. I am never bored.
I get to spend my time between classes getting to know my students in so many amazing ways. I help them learn to navigate the often convoluted social dynamics of middle school while providing a space for them to process those tough days. I celebrate birthdays or listen to them complain about younger siblings. We watch rocket launches and playoff games. My classroom tables often serve as a makeshift paper football field during recess. They are so much more to me than just students in my class.
Middle school students love science. They still have that deep-seated curiosity of a young child coupled with a greater ability to think critically and problem-solve. They’re eager to seek out novel solutions to big world problems, from clean water to mitigating climate change. At the same time, they still embrace silliness—we had an enthusiastic conversation this week about the fact that snakes are incapable of burping. I can find myself, in the span of one class, laughing uproariously one minute to facilitating a conversation about the disproportionate impact sea level rise will have on low-income communities. They are simultaneously joyful, empathetic, and inquisitive. They are realistic about the challenges facing their generation while remaining fiercely hopeful for their future. They impress me every single day.
Perhaps the next time I find myself in one of these conversations I should take the time to share how I truly feel. Middle school teachers do have a responsibility to help shift the stereotypes perpetuated about adolescents. So many adults I’ve encountered recall a negative middle school experience. I can only hope I’m creating a more positive one for this generation.