“What do you do?” It’s something I am frequently asked, as are most American adults. When the silence gets awkward or you need a starting point for propelling the conversation, undoubtedly, someone will ask, “What do you do?”
“Oh, I am a teacher,” I always reply.
“Good for you! What do you teach?” they will ask.
“8th grade English,” I say with a smile…waiting for what always comes next. The same response I have gotten from 95% of the people who have inquired about my profession over the last ten years.
Next, they will say something like this: “Oh, wow! 8th grade, huh? I don’t know how you do it! Bless your heart! I could never teach middle school. And English? Wow. No way…But, good for you!”
I love teaching middle school
While I would love to berate them for their condescending remarks, I usually smile sweetly and say, “I love it! Middle school kids are the best. I can’t imagine doing anything else.” And it’s true. I honestly think I have the best job in the world, so why do adults, especially those who don’t even know me well, have the audacity to claim: “Only a saint would do your job!” That a job I love is one they wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole?
If I’m being honest, I truly don’t think anyone means to offend me. In fact, I believe they see their intentions as well meaning and even complimentary, rather than offensive. Like I need a cookie or a badge for doing the world’s hardest job and being willing to educate the pubescent youth of the world.
While I sincerely value all of the positive vibes teachers are receiving these days, especially during this global pandemic and truly divisive time (seriously, teaching in a remote, hybrid, constantly changing state is HARD!), the response of shock and awe doesn’t exactly make me feel valued. Instead, it makes me feel like I need to defend my students.
The kids in my class are not a burden to me
My kids, who I love and would do anything for aren’t a burden to me, not even close. I know what incredible people my students are, and if these, dare I say, judgmental outsiders, could spend just ONE day in my classroom, I think their tune would quickly change.
After one day, they would be blessed to see what I get to see every single day. Kids who show up, despite the obstacles they deal with on a regular basis. Deep family issues, mental health struggles, homelessness, insecurities, understanding the chaos of our world right now, and the typical struggles of just being a teenager in 2020 are present in many of their lives.
When I think back on my own middle school days, I didn’t have a fraction of influences, distractions, and pressures that students today are forced to wrangle with constantly. Struggles that many adults cannot always handle, my students are choosing to not only face, but tackle head-on while giving their absolute best. At 13, some of these kids have more perseverance and grit than you would ever believe. They amaze me daily.
Eighth graders have incredible empathy
I have also seen 8th graders show incredible empathy towards others. I know many people hate to relive their drama filled teen years, and while my students do deal with some negativity from their peers, it is much more common to see them showing kindness and acceptance of people who are not in their immediate circle of friends.
Tolerance and inclusivity are not just words in my building. They are a way of life. The confidence, courage, and leadership it takes to step outside of their comfort zone to invite another student into their group during class work-time or in the hallways is truly breathtaking to see. And I get to see it all the time. Kids are different today. The world has changed, and my students have adapted in the best way possible.
They are the hope I need in the darkness of the world we live in today.
They have not been tainted by politics, division, and hatred, but instead, all that negativity has caused them to see a brighter and better future for themselves, and I truly believe they will be the catalyst that moves us forward.
Also, my kids are incredibly fun. Every day we laugh. Every single day I smile at their wit, silly conversations, unending sarcasm, and general middle schoolness. In my classroom, we have fun. In the hallways of my building, students can leave the adult problems at the door. They get to just be 13.
I let my middle school students be themselves
They get to hang out with their friends, learn with their teachers, and experience some freedom from their everyday stressors. I truly believe kids love school. Sometimes it’s hard, some days are worse than others, but generally speaking, school is a safe haven. Kids get to be themselves and are supported for being who they are.
During middle school, students are learning who they want to be in the world, and the fact that I get to be a part of that process is an honor I do not take lightly. I love my job. All of it. And each of my kids. Over 1,150 students over the last 10 years. They are unique and special in their own ways. I remember their names. I remember their innocent, teenage faces. They are important to me, even after they leave my classroom. They are my inspiration, and my reason for coming to work each day.
So, even if you think I am “a little bit crazy to teach middle school kids,” I have to politely disagree. Because in fact, I am one of the lucky ones. Someone who loves going to work every day simply because I get to be a middle school teacher.