Let me start by saying that I have a wide range of classroom-based experience in a variety of settings. I have been an instructor of adult learners in a High School Completion program at a Community College, an adjunct college faculty member teaching history courses to undergraduates, a middle school classroom teacher of Social Studies and Language Arts and have delivered professional development to thousands of educators.
In all of these different settings and in teaching all of these diverse age groups I can tell you the place I feel most ‘at home’ is teaching middle school.
My career in education didn’t start with that age group. I came to love and appreciate middle school students only after they were forced upon me. Let me explain. During graduate school I had to do a rotation in a variety of academic settings; everything from pre-school to adult education. I suppose that requirement was in the program so we could get a taste of all the different places we might end up teaching.
Just about every one in my cohort already had an idea of what grade level and what subjects we wanted to teach. I had my degree in History and had been teaching at a community college as an adjunct faculty. I wanted to get a full-time faculty position in the High School Completion program and needed a secondary credential to even be considered. With this goal in mind, I dutifully applied to university and was accepted into an intensive Master’s program that would get me out with the advanced degree and a Secondary Teaching Certificate.
Graduate school was an experience. Because it was an intensive program it was many hours of research and writing on top of the regular course work. It really was a different approach to teacher preparation as one of the main goals of the program was to train educators to be reflective decision makers. Hours of thinking and writing were required.
We started doing visits to many different schools and many different settings. I observed and participated in everything from expensive suburban private schools to high-poverty urban and alternative schools for kids who had gotten into trouble with the law.
As the end of my graduate program drew near, I had checked all the required boxes of the different settings except for one: Middle School. With dread I made the necessary contacts to gain permission to observe a Middle School Social Studies class. Why had I put off going to a Middle School? Probably because I had listened to the talk about how awful the kids were from my fellow graduate students.
I bought into what a pain that age group was, and how they were nothing but a collection of raging hormones with the attention span of fleas on a hot griddle. After all, I had been teaching college classes! Why would I want to cast my scholarly pearls before unappreciative and uninterested Middle School swine?
With that cynical, and somewhat superior, attitude I went to my first observation. What I was confronted with was something far removed from my preconceptions. I saw a master teacher gently guiding students up the ladder of Bloom’s Taxonomy without them even realizing they were doing high level learning activities.
I saw students on fire with new ideas and making new connections with prior acquired knowledge. I saw creativity demonstrated by students in mixed ability groups doing projects together. I saw the future. I knew I had to be a part of this excitement and fun. That is the key—fun. These students were having fun together, AND they were learning!
It turns out those key elements were a perfect fit for my personality. Exuberance, passion, excitement at considering new ideas and learning new skills are part of my DNA.
There is no place better for that than in the Middle School classroom. I ended up doing my student teaching at that same school where I did that first observation. Don’t misunderstand me; it wasn’t all sunshine and balloons. There are hours and days of hard work to get to where your students experience what I observed in that first days. But in the end, it is so worth it.
I would not trade my teaching career as a professional Middle School educator for anything. The long-term satisfaction I derived is beyond price.
The lesson I learned was check your preconceived notions at the door, and open yourself up to the possibility that something great is just around the corner. You will never know what that may lead you to discover about yourself!