I taught middle school English for almost ten years, a fact that leads people to say, "I could never do that," or "You must be really, really, really patient."
I think a lot of people could teach middle school. If you think poop is funny, you're 90% of the way there. If you know who Ke$ha is, give yourself another five percentage points. Finally, if you're impervious to the Eye Roll of Complete Disgust, a move perfected by many an 8th grade Queen Bee, you've earned 100%.
I am not trying to say that teaching middle school is easy, but I found success doing the following:
1) Knowing my subject
2) Teaching it actively
3) Caring about my students
4) Caring about my students
5) Caring about my students
Most middle school kids don't give a rat's ass about the semi-colon or Sylvia Plath (hell, most people, PERIOD, don't care about that stuff.) However, if you take the time to know students' names, their interests, their favorite band/skater/actor/professional wrestler, they will meet you partway. (Disclaimer: I have had plenty of students who did not meet me partway....but more often than not, I did.)
Once you have that relationship, you find the patience, or at least you find a lot to laugh about.
One time, I was asked to cover a male teacher's PE class because he was delayed. I walked into the gym, and faced twenty-five thirteen-year-old boys holding basketballs.
I played basketball in middle school, so I thought I would attempt to teach three-point shooting. They were all fidgeting, bouncing the basketballs, mumbling to themselves. One boy would periodically start popping and locking (this was six years ago, not 1981). In an attempt to get their attention, I said, "Okay, boys, put your balls on the floor."
And, having gift wrapped this statement and delivered it to their doorstep, EVERY BOY sat down at exactly the same moment. On the floor.
Balls on the floor. Get it?
I could do many things. I could have yelled. Written referrals. Told the regular teacher. Lectured.
Instead, I laughed. I laughed until I cried. I laughed so much my stomach hurt the next day.
Finally, I said, "Um, basketballs, that is," and we went on with our day, everybody smiling.
I'm not patient. I'm not magical. I just recognize that kids are funny, and that middle school is hard enough already without being chewed out for doing something really, really brilliant.
We all learned something that day. Those boys are probably doing flash mobs on YouTube now. And me? I learned to always say, "basketball" or "baseball" when working with these odd little adolescent creatures.
Join Travis as he fishes for stories on Memoir Monday.