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By Sarah Mattie
When I tell people I teach middle school (grades 6-8), the response is always the same: “Ugh! They’re the worst! You must be a very special person. I could never do that job.”
I know you mean well. I do. I am making no assumptions about your intent in those comments. (I will be making assumptions about another comment, though. Be warned.) You remember middle school as sucking. SO DO I!
But, these kinds of comments get back to our kids. These are the things that make them feel worthless. Now, this may sound like hippie-dippie nonsense to you. I felt that way too, for a very long time. I was not a feelings person until I became a teacher, and teaching was not my first career. As a teacher, I have learned there is a difference between “the feels” and the deep down insecurities we instill. People become what they are told they are. I know good kids who have started getting into trouble because people assumed they were troublemakers; “if I’m going to get in trouble anyway, I might as well enjoy the ride.”
So, when an adult tells me that I’m a saint for teaching middle school, it tells any kid that might hear you that they are inherently bad. That couldn’t be further from the truth! Middle schoolers are the coolest people. They are young human beings who are in the difficult time between being a kid and being an adult. This is the age, more than any other, when they find out what kind of person they are going to be. And despite that, I have seen the greatest acts of kindness, experienced the most amazing feats of creativity, and heard the world’s best jokes (yes, occasionally fart jokes) from them.
Now, I said there was a comment I was totally going to judge you for if you have said it: “It’s only middle school.” This is something we hear from parents and even teachers of high school students when we worry about grades or behavior from our kids. “It’s only middle school. It doesn’t matter anyway.”
Just because parts of these years don’t appear on college transcripts, it doesn’t mean they don’t matter. Kids build upon the academic and, perhaps more importantly, the social skills they learn at this age. Middle school is when their personalities are just about “done cooking,” as I like to tell people when they say this. When a kid gets to high school, they are pretty well set on who they will be until they reach the next milestone of maturity several years later, and their high school social and academic experiences will affect their career and college choices.
I am not a saint. My kids are not devils. I am the luckiest person on earth because I get to spend every day with the coolest human beings. So, when someone tells you they teach this age, ask questions. Say normal human things. Same when you talk to our kids. Because soon, they will be adults. Adults you have to deal with.
And I’d bet you’d rather deal with adults who are kind and competent than the ones some people are telling them they are at thirteen.