All About Transitions – Middle Schoolers and Me

When I was getting my education degree, I was pretty sure I would end up teaching High School English.  I loved student teaching in a 10th grade classroom and assumed that something similar would follow.  Surprisingly, the job I ended up taking was in a middle school classroom teaching one section each of 6th through 8th grade English, among other subjects, as well.  Like a meet-cute in a movie, I remember meeting my first homeroom of 7th grade students as a first year teacher and realizing that I love middle school.  Before, when I was still in college, I would tell people that I planned on teaching high school English, and they would say, “High School? But, you look like you’re in high school yourself!”  Now, when I explain that I am a middle school teacher, I get funny facial expressions, comments on what a “unique” age group that is, “well some one’s gotta do it” sentiments, and (because I’m in the south) that slightly condescending endearment, “Well, bless your heart!”

Image from Flikr User AwesomeJoolie

Middle school students are a unique group, for sure, but my heart also does feel blessed to be working with them.  What I’ve learned most about working with this age is that, to put it as simply as possible, it seems to be all about transitions on the part of the students and all about flexibility on the part of the teachers.  For middle school students so much, even the familiar things, are new.  Having a locker and a class schedule without spending the whole day with the same twenty-five kids is enough to send some sixth grade students straight to the floor in the middle of the hallway surrounded by a confusing shower of papers.  Then there’s the fact that your friends, especially those of the opposite sex, are suddenly different and so your friendship now has to be different, even if you were perfectly happy riding your bikes all over the neighborhood and running through sprinklers two summers ago. To add to the chaos, there’s also this strange phenomenon where all of a sudden friends have broken themselves up into little groups and each group seems to have its own social expectations and code.  Whew! I get kind of dizzy just thinking about it, and then I remember that all of those things are being towed behind my students when they enter my classroom each day.  I smile, though, because they are bringing these things into my English classroom, and, among other very important things, English is all about communicating about my world and your world and the worlds that have come before us and those that will follow.  It is using this great gift of language to deconstruct our ideas, philosophies, understandings, and questions.

This past school year, I came to the decision that it was time to make a transition of my own and decided to seek employment at a different school.  When I began the process of applying and interviewing, I knew without a doubt that, no matter what other changes I made, I wanted to keep teaching middle school.  I may have stumbled into middle level education, but I have no desire to leave. This sentiment is viewed as crazy-talk by some (even some within the field of education) but that also means that the majority of teachers you have on a middle school faculty really want to be there.  Others may have stumbled into it, like I did, but I’ve also found that those who find it is not for them don’t seem to hang around for long, which means you are left with a faculty who is largely happy that they are working in a middle school – at least in my experience.

This coming July, I will begin the move to my new school where I will teach 7th and 8th grade English.  It is an independent k-12 school just outside of Atlanta, and also just happens to be where I attended high school.  A lot has changed since I was in attendance, and I am excited for this next stage in my career.  Looking ahead, though, I am also finding a few more ways to relate to my transition-laden students.  I will be learning to work within the new codes and expectations of a new faculty and a new curriculum.  Additionally, the school has a couple of innovative programs and ideas in place.  For one, in the 6th-8th grades, Math and English classes are gender divided.  I am eager to see how this new dynamic will affect my classroom, but also want to make sure I am preparing myself for this new class element as much as possible, so that creating the right environment for my students is not too trial and error based.  In the upcoming school year, the school is also launching a one-to-one tablet program.  I am glad that this is a transition that all faculty members will encounter and not just the new additions.  I’ve brought my tablet home and am excited to begin playing around with it.

For my students, middle school is all about transitions.  As for me, I am in full transition mode, too.  It can seem a little overwhelming at times, but overwhelming in a way that fills me with energetic enthusiasm for the year to come.  So now, dear PLN, I am calling on you to help me in this transition, and hopefully we can all learn a little be from each other in the process.  Do you have any great resources on teaching to different genders? One-to-one tablet programs? Entering a new faculty and curriculum?  I appreciate all the ways you help guide me and will be sure to share what I learn along the way, as well!

2 responses to “All About Transitions – Middle Schoolers and Me

  1. mardie June 19, 2011 at 9:13 am

    I’m excited for you, Katie. And, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on teaching English to gender divided groups. There was a pilot program in our district last year that tried this in one school. I haven’t heard the final word on how it went, but during the year there were reports on the advantages to splitting the genders for English class. I hope you keep us updated.

    I will be transitioning to a new 7-12 school (the new model for middle schools in my district) next year, so we’ll be in transition mode together. I’m pumped! Change can be quite exhilarating, indeed.

  2. KDixon June 20, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Mardie,
    I’d be interested to see how the pilot in your district went. The school I’m moving to has had such a program for the last 3-4 years, so I imagine they have found success with it. I am reading lots of Michael Gurian lit to brush up on my – well I’m not really sure what to call it, gender-consciousness?

    Good luck in your new school! Though I’ve almost always taught middle school, it’s also always been in schools that include more than just 6th-8th grades – I really like it. I’ve found that this model helps students transition well and lends itself to greater consistency between grade level and better flow of ideas and information between teachers.

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