I've always known in the back of my head that I was going to be a teacher. I remember my first grade teacher asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said to her, "I don't know, I think I want to teach kindergarten." Immediately she dropped her sunny first grade teacher attitude and spoke to me as if she would now—"No, you don't!" Then she moved on.
I don't remember when I decided to teach middle school. Even though I tutored second graders in reading throughout high school, I knew I wasn't cut out to do that for more than two hours on a Wednesday afternoon. I went to a 7th-12th grade school for all 6 years, and as an upper schooler, I befriended several middle schoolers and underclassmen and became a "school mom." Essentially, I made myself responsible for them between 8:20 AM to 3:20 PM five days a week. This was not a school program. I just did it myself because I wanted to, and no one had a reason to tell me not to. I kept them out of trouble, off drugs (their parents LOVED me) and gave them all the support I could. I wasn't a teacher to them, since I was only at the least two years older than they were. But I knew that it was right, and I could be a teacher for people their age.
When I tell people I'm going to teach middle school English, quite often they're shocked. Some people say, "Oh, bless your heart" or other sympathetic expressions. A few people who aren't teachers have attempted to talk me out of it. Usually, people ask why. So here's why.
It's most certainly true that middle school is a tough time. It's a strange age, the early days of adolescence where you start to think you're invincible, but you'll find that you're not. I was a terrible emotional wreck in middle school. It was a dark period that sometimes I'd rather not look back on. Great middle school teachers, however, are capable of providing light in that dark time. Great middle school teachers understand why and how this is a dark time, and know that they have a responsibility to do more than teach age-appropriate content. Teachers are guides to life, and when life begins to get dark, teachers guide.
In 6th grade, I was cursed with a depressing amount of horrendous teachers in a public school, who only added to the damage that their predecessors forced upon me. In 7th grade, when I moved to a private school, a traumatized 12-year-old running around in the dark, a team of middle school teachers brought me out. It wasn't easy for me, and I certainly didn't make it easy for them. But they were the absolute best middle school teachers for the job, and never even considered giving up on me. They saved my life. Great teachers don't give up, especially on middle schoolers who are at an extremely difficult time and need all the love and help they can get.
Developmentally, middle schoolers are at a fascinating time. They really begin to think for themselves and also to see the perspective of others. They often become more interested in the world around them, especially regarding current events. Middle school teachers must teach how to think, not what to think.
I'm currently a student teacher in an 8th grade English classroom, and seeing the kids so engaged and fighting for a chance to speak in class when we're doing something they're interested in is thrilling to watch. Sometimes they get rowdy over the subject, not over distraction or indifference. Of course, we can't teach something extremely interesting and engaging every single day, but I can see them think and try so hard, and I know I'm in the right place.
I believe in middle schoolers. I don't believe that they're bad. I believe that they struggle at this time due to human nature, and that I am capable of helping them through. My biggest fear as a teacher is that I'll lose sight of who I was. I used to be a messed up, resentful 12- and 13-year-old. I just need to remember that I was, nor will I ever be perfect, and neither will my students. Perfection should not be expected of anyone, especially middle schoolers. They're still kids, but some people don't quite realize that. The stigma around middle school is understandable, but also sad. I'm not sure if it will ever fade away, but I can certainly make it better from the inside.