A couple of years ago, I found myself seriously debating leaving my job as a middle school ESL teacher. I went so far, in fact, as to starting checking various job listings in earnest and even interviewed for a different position in a high school. The kids that I was dealing with at the time were a crass and unruly bunch. Incredibly disrespectful to each other (and sometimes even to me), it forced me to take a major step seriously question who I was and what the hell I was doing teaching down in the rabbit hole known as middle school.
Even after all that time leading up to that point, I was still tempted to walk away from it all. Despite the sacrifice, patience, and effort that it had taken me to finally earn a respectable teaching position, I still felt that it was an option for me to choose to simply jump ship, and venture out into the unknown, rethink my career and maybe join the circus. Yeah, middle school will do that to you.
Fast forward a couple of year later, and it’s the same damn thing. Only this time, I am no longer the young, 20 something whippersnapper that I once was. I’m older now, old enough to understand that that’s not the way life works, and I have a family to provide for. And that I can’t just run away from problems, I have to face them and the reality: I am a middle schooler for life.
In retrospect, I can’t honestly say if I ever really thought that I would (or could) leave my job. It’s not just the fact that in this day and age and in this economy, any halfway decent job is a blessing. It’s that I really feel that being a teacher is something innate in me by this point. And as for the whole junior high thing, well… On one hand, it’s true that middle school has a bad rap. I mean, think about how many books have been published about surviving it (for students and teachers alike).
Nevertheless, they also say that teaching middle school is, “… like Scotch. At first you try to get it down. Then you get used to it. Then it’s all you order.”
Teaching tweens can undoubtedly be trying. That stuff that people warn you about, that they are walking hormones personified, that they test and push limits, that they are ornery little beasts? Yes, it’s true. Throw the fact that in any one of my classes, the students have starkly different levels of English ability and various first languages, and I know damn well that I have my work cut out for me. But nevertheless, I find something about this particular age group that still draws me in. Most of the time.
To make my current endeavours even more interesting, my other middle school ESL colleague and I are being “voluntold” to take on a student teacher for a couple of months to show her the tricks of the trade. My initial reaction was that of incredulous resistance (“Hellllllllll no”). But maybe, just maybe, I actually have some middle school wisdom to impart on this budding educator.
I guess one of the first things that I would demonstrate to my soon-to-be student teacher is that while middle school involves more than its share of trials, challenges, and low points, the highs that you get when things go particularly well with this particular age group are indescribably, well, high.
When I have a student experience the famous and coveted “Ah-ha!” moment when they previously thought that they couldn’t do something, that’s a high. When a student leaves me an occasional silly-sweet note, that’s a high (I keep all these momentos in an album to revisit when I need it). When student who I previously taught make the trek all the way to Room 7 where I teach to pay their old teacher a visit, that’s a high. When I get to watch “my kids” evolve and make progress (not just in English) and become little adults, that’s definitely a high.
Middle School is a time of self-discovery and figuring out where you fit in in the world for most 12 year olds. It’s no different for me, even now, even after all this time. I guess that’s why I inevitably keep gravitating back toward this topsy-turvy group.
Not long ago, I was teaching a class that went completely awry. No, I’m lying. Scratch that. A series of classes for a series of days that had gone haywire. I’m not a shouter or one of those teachers who flicks the light switch on and off repeatedly to get their students’ attention. But it’s honestly days like these that cause me to question if I am really apt at this whole teaching thing at all, even after all these years. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I don’t get angry, I digest my anger unhealthily in the form of depression and stress. Needless to say, it has a lot of consequences, psychosomatic and otherwise. And I wonder why the hell I’m subjecting myself to this.
But then I think about the ghost of Teaching Past. I think about how far I’ve come, how my kids have come. I think about all those “high” experiences that I mentioned. I think of younger siblings of students who I have heard are actually looking forward to having class with me (gossip, both positive and negative, spread faster than peanut butter at my school). And I know instinctively that this is where I belong, and as per usual with middle school, there is still work to be done.