Over the years, I’ve gotten sympathetic looks from people asking, “Was it your CHOICE to teach middle school?” or “You teach Middle School – God bless you”, similar to a response when you meet someone with the plague. Friends, family, parents, and non-middle school colleagues often share that Middle School was the worst part of their lives, so it must be torture to teach students of that age. For them, it was a time of stress, angst, misery, and hormonal horror. As an 18-year teacher who has dedicated her entire career to Middle School education, I try not to take those comments personally. I would like to think that the students that walk into my classroom come in with a smile, and leave even happier. I wish those friends and family that question my sanity on career choice could go back in time for just a second – back to the glorious teenage years, when bad hair and questionable hygiene ruled. They would see a curious, wide-eyed, eager to please, gawky and fun-loving child. They would feel that excitement again to meet new challenges and taking on new responsibilities. They would feel the thrill of carrying their own books and supplies from classroom to classroom and organizing your own schedule and locker. Believe me, as a teenager, I wasn’t thrilled with the acne, heartbreak, and friendship drama. I will never forget, however, some people that made difference in my life. My Middle School science teacher, Mrs. Dates, was the first person that made me think that I wanted to become a science teacher. Jennifer was my first best friend who liked me for who I was, but then ditched me for who I wasn’t. Mr. Woods gave me a ride home after I crashed my bike on the way home from school. For some reason, I remember my bus driver Carol’s words of wisdom better than some of my family reunions.
As an educator, I equate Middle School to learning to ride a bike. You will eventually learn if keep trying, and although you may fall off many times, with awful road rash or bruises, the end result of learning to ride is liberating and wonderful. In retrospect, If I knew how hard and painful those falls were, I would still go back and learn. Some people make learning to ride look like a piece of cake. Some struggle right up to the end. I try not to remember the falls and bruises, but I certainly remember that feeling of flying down that first hill after learning to master my bike. I’m going to continue to be there to help pick up that toppled bike, dust off that student, and give them a gentle push to try again.