Managing Middle-School Mayhem

In my 20 years teaching middle school, I have experienced curriculum changes, redrawing of boundary lines, the introduction of the Common Core Standards, culture shifts, and now a pandemic that has altered the reality of public education. Some days, I grinned incessantly through the triumphs of my students. Other days – and most recently – I have wanted to throw in the towel and walk away. There must be something less stressful, more fulfilling, better respected than guiding 150 anxious and emotional teens through the most awkward years of the their lives, right? I ruminate on the possibilities and toy with various ideas. Then, I take a minute to reflect and gain perspective. Now, with my 20th year in education winding down, I am sharing a bit of wisdom – if you can call it that – I have gathered through the highs and lows of sweating it out (often literally) with rooms full of 13-year-olds for these years. May this list be an encouragement and a blessing to you:

  1. Extra grace required. Every day. Period.
  2. No. He doesn’t really have to use the bathroom unless he is doing the potty dance.
  3. If it doesn’t change where they’re going when they die, it is not that important.
  4. Be flexible: learn to roll with the changes that fly at you daily. Also, do yoga. You will need to stretch at awkward angles to pick up pencils from the tight spaces between desks.
  5. Love first. Teach second.
  6. Learn to be sarcastic. It is the only form of humor thirteen-year-olds understand.
  7. You’re the cool teacher – until you turn 40 and then you’ll be called Mom – a lot. Answer anyway.
  8. They will never guess your age correctly. Just tell them.
  9. Hold them accountable for how they treat each other.
  10.  Those who do the work get smarter. Make them do the work. 
  11. Nothing replaces the power of a pencil and a sheet of lined paper.
  12. Some days the students will be mature, ready to learn. Other days, they will trade slime under the desk. Learn to tell which days are which.
  13. On the slime days, let them play. Let them color. Give them play dough. Bring out the sidewalk chalk. They have many years to be adults but only 18 to be children.
  14. Sometimes the loudest and laziest is the most capable. Challenge them all. They’ll thank you for it – someday.
  15. Teaching in middle school is a thankless job. That’s okay. You make a difference everyday.
  16. Be a safe space for kids. You might be the only positive adult in their lives.
  17. Potty jokes are still funny.
  18. When you see students in the grocery store, pay attention. If they smile and wave, take the cue and say hello. If they look away, go down a different aisle and pretend you have no idea who they are.
  19. Take the rabbit trail. Follow the squirrel. Sometimes, kids learn the most from an unexpected tangent. Take advantage of it.
  20. What do I have to share? To teach? Who am I to impart wisdom to the next generation? It’s not about me. God provides the wisdom. I’m just the conduit – called to a purpose – called to a classroom. Let go and let God.

One response to “Managing Middle-School Mayhem”

  1. Kimberly Montgomery Avatar
    Kimberly Montgomery

    Good advice. Middle School is a rough age and those of us who teach or taught middle school understand exactly what you are saying. It takes a special kind of person to teach Middle School. Your students are so very lucky to have you.

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