Today, I had the best teaching day of the year. In fact, it was one of my all-time best teacher moments. In lieu of a Halloween party, we homeroom teachers took our 7th and 8th grade students to the playground so that they could hang out and socialize. A group of girls came up to me and asked, “Would you play with us?” It blew my mind in the best possible way.
Let’s get this straight from the get go. I absolutely LOVE teaching middle school.
When I meet someone and they find out I teach middle school, I am usually met with commiseration in somber tones, like I have divulged an illness or impending bankruptcy. Sometimes folks will screw up their courage and try for the chipper, “Maybe a high school job will open up. You know, high school teachers get paid more than middle school teachers.” (Tip to these Helpful Henrys--if I cared to make more than a basic living wage, I would never have considered a career in education in the first place. NO ONE chooses a teaching career with the thought of making a mint.)
When I examine the data, I can almost fathom their negative response to my chosen calling. According to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, nearly 50% of new teachers leave the profession in the first five years! A Washington Post article cites reasons teachers quit:
“‘Teachers are more educated than ever before, with the proportion of those holding master's degrees increasing to 50 percent. . .We must face the fact that although our current teachers are the most educated and most experienced ever, there are still too many teachers leaving the profession,’ NEA President Reg Weaver said.” The National Education Association blames low salaries and work related stress as the main reason for such attrition.
Again, I LOVE teaching middle school. Why? Because I have always wanted to make a difference, and teaching middle school gives me that chance-actually that mission- every day. Not only can I read along with my students as they experience To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time, but I can also read their daily independent writing journals, some entries completely silly, and others soul bearing. In fact, the other night, I had a seriously good cry over a response to the prompt, “A moment when I was really proud of myself was. . .” The eleven-year-old wrote about singing a solo at her father’s funeral. As a middle school teacher, I can stand with my students and paint a gigantic, candy-pink boat for the set of Willy Wonka, Jr., and I can teach my Science Fiction club about the “Trouble with Tribbles.”
I can also condemn using the word “gay” used as an insult, not only because it is offensive, but also because I am certain that in every class there are a few young people just beginning to wrestle with questions about their identities. I also can teach the students not to use “retarded” as an insult. Last year, I was able to take a group of students to visit Broadmoor School, a local school especially for children with developmental disabilities. These same students who visited the school have organized a fundraiser to purchase therapy equipment to help the Broadmoor students. I can guarantee that not a single young person involved in this project will tolerate people using the word “retarded” as a slur.
“Will you play with us?”
The group of girls looked at me earnestly. Falling back on my own grade school habits, I quickly scanned the area to see which more popular person they were inviting. But it was me they wanted. How amazing, to be wanted.
Day in and day out, I strive to show these young people how valuable, how amazing, how wanted they are. I knew it was critical, but I never knew how wonderful it felt.
“Mrs. Porter, will you play with us?
“Sure. What should we play?”