‘Twas the Night Before Teaching Middle School

‘Twas the Night Before Teaching Middle School and All Through The House…

When I was a kid, there were three nights of the year in which I wouldn’t sleep a wink: the night before Christmas, the night before my birthday, and the night before the first day of school. For the most part, I’ve outgrown the first two.

Who knew I would be the age I am now and still getting my “back-to-school clothes” in order? And still tossing and turning all night with butterflies in my stomach? And the biggie: who in the world would have thought that I would spend twelve additional years (at current time) in middle school/junior high?! I hated grades six though eight. With. A. Passion. The kids were awful to each other then, just as they are awful to each other now. And, yes, I still remember which kids were the most hateful ones of them all. Most seemed to have grown up to be nice humans.

Those years…the awkwardness. The name-calling. The concern over name brands. The uncertainty of transitioning from one class to the next during the first week. The getting lost in the endless maze of classrooms. The getting to class with the wrong notebook or book. Oh, middle school!

And, yet, for 1,200 or so kids at my school, it will all begin tomorrow. And it begins again for me, as well. The awkwardness. The name-call…haha! Just kidding. No, the stresses of teaching middle school are certainly not of the same kind that come with being a middle school student. But there are still days that I find myself incredulous that I, as an adult, am still part of this crazy rite of passage called middle school.

Middle school kids are tough cookies. And when you teach 130-150 of these cookies a day and also deal with many of their parents, well, that makes for a lot of batches of cookies. Some years, the cookie batches are perfectly done and really sweet and ooey, gooey. These batches make me truly grateful for my profession. Other years, the batches are a little overdone with hard edges that leave a rough mark on the pan when you pull them off. I had some of those latter batches in recent years. Hoping that this year’s batch is of the first variety.

'Twas the Night Before Teaching Middle School

‘Twas the Night Before Teaching Middle School

What the Research Says About Adolescent Thought Process and Behavior

A few years ago, I read, “The Middle School Years: Love Me When I Am Most Unloveable,” by Robert Ricken. The book really hit home. Anyone who has been around middle school students – particularly when they are among their peers – will understand the points made in this book. It is very hard to teach adolescents when they have so many hormonal issues and have a priority of social interaction more so than anything else. Many of them do not yet possess the abilities to think outside the box or to reason which can make sensible conversation non-existent.

In Yardsticks: Children
in the Classroom, Ages 4-14, 
a book I cited extensively for the research portion of my master’s thesis, Wood (2007) writes that 12-13 year-olds face identity struggles and a period of dramatic contrasts. According to Wood, their behavior can swing wildly throughout various parts of the day. Yep.

Dealing with 30 different personalities in one room is especially challenging with adolescent students who are at varying levels emotionally, physically, intellectually, morally, culturally, and socially. Add to that their wide range of personal interests and family crises, the enabling of certain parents and the absence of others, and the days can get pretty trying in the classroom. Wormeli (2012) explains that the prefrontal lobe is not yet completely developed in the brains of adolescents. This leads to an increased tendency for thrill-seeking and lack of impulse control. Reasoning, decision-making, planning, understanding the impact of words and actions, and the ability to consider consequences are all guided by the prefrontal lobe, according to Wormeli.

Soooo…why would anyone want to teach people in this stage of life, you might ask? I have to admit that I never, ever, ever intended to spend my days teaching middle school students. I really wanted to teach older kids. Some days, I was crazy enough to think I might like to teach younger kids. (Now, I know that sixth grade is as low as I ever need to go. Eighth grade is best for me.) But teach middle school kids? Never. Without a doubt, I would never, ever, ever find myself teaching middle school kids.

Until, all of a sudden, I found myself teaching middle school kids. I know those kids had gut rolls of laughter at my expense that year week.

But adolescent kiddos have really grown on me over the years. Prefrontal lobe development has nothing to do with the smile that spreads across a middle schooler’s face when you offer him or her a simple compliment.

There is nothing like seeing a student’s mood do a complete 180 for the positive in the course of 50 minutes. Nothing like running into a former student just before her high school graduation and hear her say that she has received a full scholarship to study to be a Spanish teacher. And nothing like coming to your desk at the end of a class period and finding something like this:


'Twas the Night Before Teaching Middle School

‘Twas the Night Before Teaching Middle School

Last year, I had a hard year. I began to feel disheartened with teaching. Many American students of today simply do not take their education seriously. I began to feel guilt and resentment that I was spending my day with students who seemed to waste my time and efforts and theirs while I paid someone else to take care of my own baby for me. This working mom business is no joke and when you feel like you aren’t even making a difference in what you are doing, the whole idea of it begins to make zero sense.

And, to be very frank, I had stooped so low with my discontent that I began to wonder if teaching a foreign language in Arkansas was a fruitless effort. I decided that I didn’t want to teach Spanish anymore, and I certainly didn’t want to teach middle school kids Spanish. But then, thankfully, I recognized that it was only a small handful of students who had pushed me to feel this way. Only a small percentage out the nearly 300 I teach each year refuse to behave in class or resist learning in my classroom.

I figured it up and I have taught an average of 1,500 students – close to 300 each year – since I started this profession. The majority of students have been wonderful little blessings to me and have been eager to learn and expand their horizons. By the end of the year, I was again reminded that so many of them need me in the classroom. Many come from torn homes with parents working multiple jobs and receive very little attention or notice. This year, will be my 12th year teaching middle school and endure all of its drama, and my personal goal is to take notice each day of the daily differences I am making.

I know that tonight I will not sleep. Digging through my box of student notes and seeing the kids out shopping for their school supplies this weekend has refreshed me with a sense of excitement to see what great things this year will bring. I have no doubts that many students who will step into my classroom tomorrow will not sleep tonight either.

My ESL students are always a highlight of my teaching day. Because I am the only one in my school who teaches ESL, I get the privilege to work with the ESL students for three years. It is always so interesting to observe how they have changed – physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially – from one year to the next. I so enjoy working with these students and can’t wait to see them tomorrow!

Please pray for peace, guidance, and willingness to learn and adapt for all of us “middle schoolers” this year.

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