Rethinking Middle School

shutterstock_162037016By Aubrey Murtha — If you would have asked me last year about my teaching preferences, I would have told you that never in a million years would I consider teaching middle school.

I had a list of reasons, too.  It was something I had thought about from the very moment teaching entered my brain as a possible career choice.

No middle schoolers.  Ever.

Why?  It was pretty straight forward:

1.)    They are all annoying.  This does not require further explanation.

2.)    They are all pubescent.  The girls are catty and snarky.  Skirts get shorter and attitudes get worse as girls start to reach “maturity.”  And goodness, the boys; smelly, hairy, loud, attention seeking, overtly obnoxious, too tall and far too inappropriate.

3.)    They are arrogant.  All of a sudden you hit 13 years old, and you think that you are invincible.  Please tell me what grand life experience you had between ages 12 and 13 that makes you qualified to assert your authority over me?

4.)    They are bullies.  Nice middle schoolers are few and far between.  I do realize I did not have great hair in middle school (somewhere between Ellen DeGeneres and a skater boy), but was it something that I needed to be routinely reminded of on a daily basis?  Rude middle school kids are very good at squashing individuality.  Heaven forbid you try to spice up your appearance or do something a bit out of the ordinary.  They’ll straighten you out real quick.

So, I had my mind made up.  I would teach high school.

Hopefully, I’d teach advanced literature and composition to juniors and seniors.  Real mature adults.  This was my plan.  Maybe I’d get a PhD down the road and move up to the university level because everyone knows that college kids are truly the epitome of maturity (thinly veiled sarcasm, there).

Well, this year came along, and both of my service learning placements have had me working with middle school kids.  I must say, I feel guilty for having been so harsh on such a dynamic age group.  Middle school kids have turned out to be a significant challenge, but they provide me with significant reward.  They are intelligent enough to engage in meaningful conversation and collaborative learning projects, yet they are still spunky and spry and energetic and remarkably creative.  We (me included) often give these kiddos a bad name, but they are a wonderfully goofy bunch with so much potential.

High school is definitely still my plan and middle school kids are definitely still annoying, but I just have to formally take this opportunity to recognize and highlight the often overlooked promise of the notorious middle schooler.

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