Middle school: a cruel, amazing, funny, weird, horrifying and scary time of life for so many kids. For middle school teachers, many of those adjectives apply as well. As I sit listening to one of my 8th grade students explaining A Midsummer Night’s Dream to another student, all in her heavy NY accent and using teen-friendly language, I am amused and amazed. I get confused every time students read the play, yet I am confident that if I listened to this student, I would get it.
Last week my students asked me why I chose to teach this age. I responded honestly. I have taught all ages from 9/10 and up, and this is the age I chose because I love it. They didn’t seem to really believe me. However, I insisted that I decided years ago that I identify as a middle school teacher. My mother and I were just talking about this, and about how more and more, there is a middle school teacher identity that is different from a teacher biding his/her time until they can teach high school.
Here are just a few of the reasons I love teaching this quirky, strange, fun and funny group of kids.
Middle school students are brutally honest.
One asked me today, “Is that what your hair is like, Ms.Lopez, curly?” I said, “I guess, it’s wavy when I don’t blow dry it.” She responded, “I like it.” I trust that if she didn’t like it, she would have either told me, or remained quiet. I also trust that if my white hairs begin to show, or if I just got got a fresh dye job, they will also tell me. If my chin hairs are visible, or my concealer is not blended in, they will point it out. I trust this will happen because it always does. They will let you know, unlike some other ages who just want to impress and show love to their teachers. They have to keep it real by telling you the truth you didn’t want to hear.
Middle school students are funny, and you can laugh out loud with them.
The other day, I overheard a Latina student urging a classmate, also Latino, to forget about his recent breakup with a non-Latina. She exclaimed, “Ayyyyyyy! Come on, you’re Latino! You gotta go! Move on!” I pretended I didn't hear her and quietly laughed.
I have a class during which, if I forget to hide my phone, I will pick it up later in the day only to find hundreds of selfies in a “burst” that 2 of my students, (always the same 2) took, of themselves making faces. One day I found a video of one of those 2 students mocking me, staring at the class over my reading glasses, scolding them and telling them to finish their work. When I mentioned it to them in the next class, they imitated me again, and I laughed out loud along with them.
You can be silly with middle school students and they will still appreciate it.
I told my student teacher, Ms.Stephani, a few days ago that she definitely has the personality for middle school. A singer, she will sing directions to students when they are not paying attention until they finally listen: “Roberto, close your computer, close your computer, close your computerrrrrrr” in a catchy tune. They might laugh awkwardly and think she’s weird, but they listen.
It still works to threaten parent contact.
In middle school, families are learning to let go a little, and give their kids some independence over their school work/school life. However, that is not to say that if you contact them, they won’t follow up. I find that in 9 out of 10 cases, my students are still somewhat anxious to totally terrified that I will contact home with bad news. Using the app Remind has made family contact much easier for me, and the students know that I will send a Remind message on the spot if needed. One day a few weeks ago, I sent a parent a message about a student cursing in class. I know it was just a slip on the student’s part, but on the 3rd slip, I let the dad know. Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for the student, this dad happens to work in our school. He showed up at my classroom door less than 2 minutes after I sent the message, finger crooked in a “come here now” gesture toward his kid.
Middle school students are not too old to show they need you
One student comes to mind right now. He is a gangly, fidgety, energetic student who is like a puppy in that his body is growing faster than he can keep up with it and his legs and arms seem to be all over the place. He will go up to male teachers and slap them on the back like they are old football buddies, and when he high fives you your hand will sting for a few seconds. He doesn’t quite know his strength yet. He complains pretty consistently about school, yet is almost never absent. This student shows up at my door maybe 3 or 4 times every day, whether he has class with me or not, to say hi to my student teacher and me. Sometimes it is between classes, and sometimes on his way back from the bathroom during a class. The consistent presence of some teachers, and some classrooms, are a grounding force for him, though he might not be able to articulate it.
There are perfect matches for every grade and every teacher personality. I feel lucky to have found mine.