This past week, I had the privilege to work in a few different school settings, including a middle school that was smack in the middle of testing season. Upon having many conversations with staff members, one of the most enlightening discussions was around their attitude to teaching middle schoolers. Almost all of them said they loved teaching this age group.
I am an elementary teacher through and through. I have always felt that you have to be a certain type of person to teach middle school students with fidelity and success. So when these teachers stated how much they loved this age, I was in awe. Really? Students who are in constant flux with raging hormones and living in an uncomfortable limbo-land between childhood and adulthood – these are the students you yearn to teach? You seek out this opportunity? Their answers were surprising.
Here’s a few examples…
“I love this level of content. I love the books I read with them.”
“You have to have a lot of patience. I just let a lot of things slide.”
“I get to DO more with them. They aren’t babies that are needy all the time.”
I don’t know about you, but these statements led me to more questions about how you choose what you want to teach, rather than solving my dilemma of who wants to teach middle school. Those statements sound like the teachers at this level were teaching because of the content and not the kids.
Isn’t that a bit unsettling?
In a utopian society, we would all teach what we love simply for the benefits it provides to students. But that’s not the case. Many times, when teachers graduate from college, they need to make a choice: grade-level or content area? If you choose what you teach based on student age alone, you may end up teaching a content that you’re not as familiar with or something you downright dislike. On the other hand, if you stick with the content, you may end up teaching students who are at ages that are difficult for you to handle.
This is one of the many reasons that I advocate for schools to move to an integrated approach with their curriculum. If I can teach the age-level that is my “sweet spot” as an educator AND teach the content that I love at a rich, rigorous level, I have hit the jackpot. After all, we shouldn’t have to choose. We should be able to teach kids and content equitably to make the greatest impact on our future. And that is why we all got into teaching in the first place, right? To make a difference.
Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of EducationCloset.com. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education.
Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter.