Typically, when I tell people that I willingly teach middle school students, they cringe and then proceed to question why I would chose such a challenging career path. I don’t take their comments personally, because frankly, I feel the exact same way about teaching any child under the age of seven. Thoughts of snot, untied shoes, and whining voices immediately enter my mind. Ironically, these same things are often still an issue in middle school but are considered to be “cool” or “funny.” Oh middle school – how I love you.
The truth is, despite the hormones, gossip, tears, and awkwardness that comes with the territory, I LOVE teaching middle school students. Sometimes, I think it is because I enjoy the challenge. Other days, it’s because students will surprise me with an insightful reflection on a piece of literature and I am reaffirmed that I am capable of molding young minds. Every once in a while, you witness acts of genuine kindness that seem to conflict with most stereotypes that exist about middle school students. Mostly though, I just love how incredibly quirky and unique students are during those experimental middle years. There is certainly never a dull day when you work with 6th, 7th, or 8th graders.
So what do I find funniest about teaching middle schoolers?
1.) Lockers. Have you ever witnessed a middle school student attempt to cram massive binders, papers, gym clothes, backpacks, soccer cleats, calculators, pens, pencils, scissors, glue, markers, graph paper, an outfit for after school, a second outfit for after school in case the first one doesn’t work out, their phone, a spare pair of shoes, their lunch box, a mirror, half a dozen pictures of every friend and family member they can think of, and a ton of other random items into their tiny locker? It’s hilarious! Typically, books are sprawled out all over the floor, and student are wading through other people’s stuff like a swarm of feeding fish as they try to get to their own locker. Lucky for all of you high school teachers out there, most of them figure out that all that stuff is not necessary to get through the school day.
2.) The Great Style Experiment. Middle school students evolve throughout the year. They start the year wearing all black, with eye liner caked around their eyes, claiming that they never smile and that their name is now simply “J.” By the end of the year, they can’t stop giggling, have purchased the latest hundred dollar jeans with a hundred holes from the mall (I will never understand paying for clothing with holes), and have resorted back to their legal name. If there is anything I have learned the last seven years, it is simply to roll with “The Great Style Experiment.” They will figure it out eventually.
3.) The Great Handwriting Experiment. Do you see a pattern here? Middle schoolers love to experiment. Watching various students’ handwriting evolve throughout the year is almost as amusing as watching their style evolve. Who knew that there were so many ways to write the letter “s” or to dot the letter “i”? Sometimes grading papers is like deciphering an ancient language long since forgotten by the people of our planet. “That is an ‘s’ you say? I was certain you were trying to tell me that the lost treasure ‘winks’ to the bottom of the ocean at the end of your story. I guess ‘sinks’ makes a bit more sense.”
4.) Hair. As the owner of mop of frizzy curls on the top of my head, I spent most of my own middle school years attempting to tame the head of hair for which I was blessed. As a teacher, I can now appreciate the many stages one goes through until he/she figures it out. There is the “I don’t know my hair is a mess” stage, which transitions into “Maybe a pony tail or some hair gel will hide this,” which often moves to the “I’m going to color my hair nineteen times” stage, which often results in the “What do you mean I can’t wear a hat in the building?” stage, which often ends in the “My mom made me cut it” stage. Many kids tend to figure this one out by the end of 8th grade, but there is no guarantee. After all, I still don’t have a clue what to do with my own curls most days.
5.) Drama, Drama, Drama, and more Drama. Drama and middle school are like powerful magnets that are only released when moods change and suddenly, for no apparent “We’re friends again.” Keep up, teacher, that was yesterday’s news! “Today, I’m angry at Sally because her boyfriend’s cousin gossiped about my sister. Until she apologizes, none of us are going to sit with her at lunch.” What? You have to be on top of things to keep up with the whimsical world of middle school. Relationships and friendships can begin in a matter of minutes and be extinguished hours later. If you aren’t paying attention, and Sally and Jane end up in the same group in class, Mount Vesuvius may erupt in your room covering everyone with a thick layer of ash. That’s enough to make anyone run straight home to the shower.
In the educational world, most would agree that middle school teachers are a unique breed. We are just as awkward as our students. Perhaps we never quite left that phase of our lives? Or perhaps we simply want to help others move through it as quickly and painlessly as possible? Regardless, your survival is based entirely on your attitude. So if you are considering coming over to the dark side, arm yourself with a bottom of Febreze (Did I mention The Great Cologne/Perfume/Deodorant Experiment?) and a good sense of humor. Both will come in handy.