That title might have made you wince, or think, "Hello, no!" or maybe it gave you flashbacks of your own 7th and 8th grade experiences (The "Spaz Club"? Peg-legged jeans? really?). Well, you might not have enjoyed BEING in middle school, but I can assure you that teaching middle school is, well, fun! Most of the time.
Yes, it is true that middle school students can be snarky, and the tendency to roll eyes at adults can be annoying. Also, by the end of 8th grade, they usually are confident they know much more than the adults around them. And, they can be incredibly self-centered, just like when they were toddlers. By a Friday afternoon at the end of the school day, I am pretty much done with them. I need the weekend to recuperate. Having one teen and 2 almost teens at home doesn't make that easy.
But, by Monday morning, I am ready for them again. And I remember all the things that are great about this age. Last week, I had a few moments where I felt very lucky and thankful - yes, you read it right - to be working with middle school aged kids.
For one, they make me laugh. If you are able to let your hair down once in a while with them and let down your teacher facade, they are pretty funny. On a morning when I haven't had my second cup of coffee yet, I can appreciate their quirky sense of humor. And they appreciate when adults laugh out loud with them. They are in that funny in between stage - between kid and teen - and can still be silly and young, while 2 minutes later they can be serious and offer deep insight into a conversation in class.
Middle school students have seemingly endless energy. While they profess to being exhausted in class, take them outside and observe. Or, watch them at a middle school dance - they are constantly in motion.
Some of our students are incredibly talented, and at very diverse things - rock-climbing, conducting and writing music, playing piano, acting, crafts, cooking, sports. It amazes me that by this age some of them have already honed in on some of their skills.
At this age, students are starting to figure out what they believe in and what they care about. At my school, the Leo Club has adopted a family in a nearby town to help during the holidays. The LGBTQ and Friends Club posts posters around the school explaining what an ally does. The rock and roll club jams out in a classroom after school. A teacher organizes a food drive with the help of her advisory, donating hundreds of cans to a local food pantry.
Middle school students can take the initiative when it's important to them. About a month ago, 3 students came to me with the idea of starting a Creative Writing Club, where they work on their own writing. I suggested they write a proposal, which was approved by the principal and afterschool coordinator. It is pretty amazing to sit in a room with 12 and 13 year-olds, all writing intently, for 50 minutes, without any interruptions or complaints. These are, of course, students who already work on their own writing at home. Towards the end of the 50 minutes, students can share if they feel like it, but they don't have to. It reminds me of the Western Mass. Writing Project, where teachers are able to engage in their own writing. It's especially powerful because it was created and is run by the students.
Sometimes, as self-centered as they can be, middle school students are thankful for small things. Like having hot cocoa in advisory once a week. Or when you check in with them one on one, just to make sure they are ok. Or, when you discuss the best placement for a nose ring, or admire their pink hair ends.
The reaction I often get, the "God Bless you" for teaching middle school, or the "How do you do it?" along with the shaking heads? It's really not so bad. In fact, spending my days with 12-14 year old students keeps me young. Young-feeling, in any case.