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by: Lorianne Palinkas
I have taught middle school ELA for over twenty years. I have taught sixth, seventh, and eighth grades at all levels. My favorite thing about middle school is the magic of watching people come into our building as children and come outgrown!
I wanted to be a teacher my whole life. My sister and I would draw our students and create grade books for fun when we were kids. I dreamed of bulletin board borders and buckets of random crayons and black pants covered in white chalk dust.
I entered college sure that I wanted to be a teacher. Where is a time machine when you need one? I wish I could tell my 18-year-old self what I would feel like at 42. Instead, I’ll tell you.
Before you check that education major box, you must consider the following:
1. The movies are lies.
I wanted to inspire my students. Get them thinking. Get them to feel like they could do anything. Keep them safe. You must be thinking … how naive! Didn’t you ever see Dangerous Minds? Yes, I did. I saw the tragedy. But I also believed that last line, “They gave me candy and called me their light.” I really thought that I could make a difference no matter how terrible their situations were. But the truth is that you really can’t. You might be able to delay the inevitable for the few years they are in your care. But don’t believe that you can change the world. It’ll break your heart every time.
2. The teacher in the room next door will crush your dreams.
You know the guy. The one sipping coffee like it’s Sunday afternoon because he’s just too chill to let the state test get to him. You know the woman. The one who just wants to be a friend to the kids, but doesn’t discipline them so they come to your class the next period as they’ve just stepped out of Lord of the Flies. The worst part? They’re all getting paid the same as you. Or more, depending on how long they’ve been there. Do you think it won’t bother you? Think again. Especially when their state test scores come out higher than yours because of all the circumstances you can’t control that factor into them that no one factors in.
3. Faculty conferences will make you wonder when you died and stepped into a circle of hell.
Questions that will swirl in your mind during any meeting: How can 1 hour feel like 37? Why are people so self-absorbed that they’ll ask a question which only applies to them when there are two minutes left in the meeting? Why would anyone think it’s okay to act as we work in an ER with how serious and frantic they get over a superintendent’s visit? Why did I ever take this job? How did I get here? Are time machines real?
4. You’ll feel like you’re watching the same show over and over again (but you won’t like it, and you can’t change the channel).
Year One the class archetypes will be fresh and new. You’ll feel the need to save the kid who needs saving, rehabilitate the bully, bring the shy kid of out his shell, help the talented kid to achieve her dreams, etc. But when this show has been recast 20 times by your 20th year, they will just all seem annoying. One of my colleagues told me that you’ll stop caring because “you can’t care anymore.” I thought she was heartless at the time. Nope. She was right.
5. You can’t get anywhere without more education.
There are no promotions. There is no lateral movement. Literally, every chance you could make - subject-to-subject, teacher-to-administrator, elementary-to-high school, etc. requires more schooling. Think it won’t bother you? Call me when you’ve read The Outsiders with your classes for the 46th time.
Reality is harsh. I don’t mean to sound discouraging. But these are things I wish I knew. Now that you know them, you’ll probably check that box anyway. And maybe you should. But I’d be curious to hear from you in 5, 10, 20 years. Just to hear you say, “You were right.”