In the middle

I am in the middle.

For starters, I just spent the last year in middle school. As a 6th grade teacher. And having spent 15 years teaching in high schools, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wasn’t sure if I would like it.

But I loved it.

There are many weird things that happen in middle school that I never experienced as a high school teacher. Boogers. Penises drawn in weird places. Bad smells, especially after PE on a hot day. Excessive bottle flipping. Weird dance moves that kids break into constantly and at the most random times. Fortnite, Fornite, Fornite. Pokemon. K-Pop. More Fortnite. Do you play Fornite, Mrs. Holden? No?? Why not? Some unusually phrased graffiti in the bathroom because these kids think they know what they’re talking about when it comes to sex but really they have no idea (most of them, anyway).

Also, farts. I mean, audible farts during class. Oh, and burps, too. And lots of talking about farts and burps. Do these kids not realize the embarrassment it might cause them? No, not in 6th grade, they don’t. I’m teaching 7th grade next year – next summer, I’ll give a full report on whether or not they care about these things yet.

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In 6th grade, there are loose teeth and boo-boos healed with Band-Aids. Silly jokes. Random stories that go on and on about what they did over the weekend. And there are hugs. Hugs because they are happy and hugs because they are feeling sad. There are tears sometimes. Tantrums, even. I’ve been called Mom more than once. That doesn’t really happen in high school much. I mean, think back to your own experience in middle school. It’s a really strange and awkward time in life. It’s something we all have to get through. And so teaching middle school is full of unusual things that happen on a daily basis.

But I also experienced real joy. Kids who love to read. (YAY!!! This makes me so happy!!) Kids who still see the magic in things. (I may or may not have squashed a student’s belief in the Elf on the Shelf being real.) (Yes, in 6th grade!) (Also, I’m sorry about that, kiddo, I thought you knew!) When we were studying Ancient Egypt in Social Studies class and we mummified a chicken, they were really into it! And when we read The Giver, Freak the Mighty, and Refugee in English class, they were really moved. Like I could see the awe and fear and sadness and joy in their faces as we read and talked about each book. That kind of thing dwindles away as we get older and is much harder to detect in high school. Kids this age are creative and love to show it – they wrote creepy tales of their own and created ABC books about ancient civilizations. I feel like I really got to know my students this year and, as a result, really grew to care deeply about them in a way I didn’t always experience at the high school level. And as a bonus, most of my students really like school and learning new things! It was inspiring to see.

On rainy days when we had indoor recess, my students played Uno or some other game, or we watched Brain Games or Goosebumps or The Incredibles 2 or Spy Kids. They loved it. I liked that the simple things still made them happy. Oh, and recess! We don’t have that in high school. And having to supervise recess was interesting as well. Getting to watch kids play for the most part was nice to see. Yes, I also saw gossip and a LOT of drama, as these kids try to figure out how to navigate in the grown-up world that they are fast approaching. But I saw genuine innocence and the joy of childhood.

(And by the way, all students who have phones are required leave them untouched and turned off in their lockers during the day. I can’t even begin to express how much of a positive difference this makes! And don’t even get me started on why an 11-year-old needs a phone in the first place. Any drama we did see at school was usually caused by something happening online in a group text or on Snapchat or Instagram… anyhow, that’s a different topic for a different blog post. And yes, parents, your children who have phones are sending nudes and viewing things you’d flip out about if you only knew. PLEASE PAY MORE ATTENTION. MAKE IT STOP…. Okay, I’ll stop for now.)

I’m actually excited for the next school year to begin. Middle school – where daily adventures await!

**

I am also in the middle of my career.

Like smack dab in the middle. I taught for 15 years, but then I tried to get out of this career for a couple years. But ultimately, I was drawn back in. And at 45 years old, I’ve got another 15 years before I turn 60 – and hey, 60 sounds likes a good age to retire. Maybe. I don’t want to think too hard about that now.

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Teaching really is a calling. I love what I do. Even when I am exhausted like I’ve never been exhausted before. Case in point: when school ended, I told my husband I could sleep for three days straight and then, maybe I’d start to feel like my normal self again. There is just no exhaustion like end-of-the-year exhaustion for teachers.

Anyhow, I’ve been on summer break now for a week, and I’m feeling pretty relaxed. I’ve already started thinking ahead to the next school year.

imagesWhen I think ahead to what remains in my career, I feel excited. And I think that’s important. When I quit in 2016, it’s because I really thought I was done. I had lost the joy and the spark I had as a new teacher. But after some time off, I feel like my spark is back.

Teaching is still demanding and tiring, but I feel good about going to work each morning.

After caffeine, of course.

One thing that helped me maintain my spark was the amazing group of teachers I worked with this year. In high school, of course I worked with other teachers, and some are still great friends of mine. But generally speaking, teachers don’t have the chance to really bond like they do when teaching middle school.

In middle school, my grade level team worked together all year long. We ate lunch together every day. We bitched, we gossip, we laughed, we shared joys, sorrows, and hard times. We wore matching Sixth Grade Squad t-shirts. We wore #RedforEd on Tuesdays. We celebrated each other’s successes, birthdays, weddings, and a retirement with potlucks and parties during lunch time. And we had Chick-fil-A Fridays on paydays. We still have an ongoing text thread that will live on in infamy! We were there for each other in a way I have never experienced in my career. I have never felt that level of support.

We truly cared about each other and our well being, and we took care of each other through the ups and downs of the school year. Anyone who has ever taught with such a crew knows how important your teacher squad is to your well being! But I’d never truly had that before. So now, as a middle school teacher, this level of camaraderie and support is something I’m going to expect!

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I love y’all! #SixthGradeSquad
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We are #RedforEd! And we have perfected our sorority poses!

I’m transferring schools this coming year. New grade level, new school, new teacher squad. I’m excited. (But thank goodness for summer break!)

Middle school is a unique place – a weird place, but also a very special place.

I’m grateful to be in the middle.

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10 thoughts on “In the middle

  1. Loved it! I am so happy there are people like you who love middle schoolers…it shows!
    I felt the same way with my K-4th art kiddos. It’s a wonderful feeling to know you had the best job ever.
    Keep reporting—the good, the bad and the hilarious! And, continue to enjoy the unknowns ahead!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Mary, I taught one year at Mar Vista Middle and it is still my favorite teaching experience. Eating lunch every day with you team is fun and the kids are a riot. Met another middle school teacher yesterday and she felt the same. I loved the 7th graders because they are innocent and fun. The eighth graders are starting to be jaded but still fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mary! I’ve taught 7th grade for 13 years for these reasons! I think you’ll find it to be different than 6th grade, but still amazing. I hope your new staff is as close – that is not a common middle school experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I taught middle school for fourteen years and met my favorite squad member doing so – then I married him. I had to graduate to high school when our own kids came along because I just couldn’t keep my eyes open trying to do both things. The best of times, the worst of times, but I loved it.

    Enjoy your respite; it’s well deserved. Lucky kids!

    Liked by 1 person

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