Monday, February 1, 2010

Tales from Middle School: Memoir Monday

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.


Erin said...

Loved the balls on the floor part!

I have often thought about teaching, but I don't think I have enough confidence for it. Or that I have any business trying to impart any knowledge to young, impressionable minds! Teachers are amazing!

Erin said...

p.s. I am your newest follower.

p.p.s. I love Sylvia Plath. Does that scare you?! Her poetry is phenomenal and The Bell Jar is one of my favorite books.


mama-face said...

I would much rather teach Secondary school than Elementary school. No contest. (that is, if I were a teacher). I love that age. They are so social, and FUNNY, and really most are eager to please.

I was laughing even before I read about your laughter. What a smart group of boys.

"having gift wrapped this statement and delivered it to their doorstep"

Unknown Mami said...

Well, they were just following your instructions. Funny stuff.

Ms. Moon said...

The coach might actually use that phrase meaning to do exactly what they did.
Okay. Probably not.

Rebecca said...

I did a whole lot of substitute teaching. What I learned is that in high school, I was often asked "Are you new? You should sit next to me!"

Then they figured out I was the substitute and the boys then wanted to date me. Uhh, yeah!

When I substituted for middle school, I did fine if I pretended to be their friend. We did get the work done, but I had to be more friendly than I normally am with anyone, much less a bunch of middle school kids with attitudes.

However, I found heaven in substituting elementary school. Especially the kids anywhere from kindergarten to first and second grade. They were so inquisitive about everything and I left the classroom every single time feeling like I actually made a difference in their lives. I loved the little ones.

I think teaching is all about finding your home. Everyone has a different age group for different reasons.....mine is the little ones because I like the chaos of answering 4 thousand questions in the span of just 30 minutes.

Coby said...

I can SO picture you saying that! Hilarious! Good for you for rolling with it.

One of my fondest funny memories is of my last week as a teacher - I was 8 months pregnant with the twins, and the students were just fascinated with my pregnancy - especially the boys. One sweet kid put his hand on my belly and exclaimed, "Hey Miss, you should let us come watch when you give birth! From the other side of the bed, though - we don't wanna see all that."

Nikia, May and da kids said...

I have tried to implement that practice in my real life; really trying to get to know people and care about them. I know they teach this principle in churches everywhere (ok, I am not sure about the Muslim churches, so I won't speak on them). It seems like caring for people is almost a foreign concept.

When you care enough to learn the people you deal with, it is the ultimate sign of respect. I know that your students appreciate your efforts. As hard as I am on my kids, they know I care and love them just as much as life itself. How do they know? I learn the smallest details of who they are are. I get treated with the ultimate respect because of it.


Corrie Howe said...

I don't know why but God keeps putting me with middle schoolers. I don't have a love for them. But I do like teenagers.

only a movie said...

You're right, you have to care about the kids first, really to be worth a damn in a classroom.

I taught a middle school aged classroom for 4 years, but it was in day treatment. I would never teach in a regular middle school...

Love this story! (I'm off to follow you) :-)

When did I become my Mom said...

OH MY GOSH! LMAO that is soooo funny! I taught briefly and yes, I agree with you, caring and a sense of humour go a long long way!

That is a GREAT story!

June said...

How funny!
I had a few teachers that remind me of you... and that is a very good thing.

Boys and their balls.

blueviolet said...

I've always thought that middle school kids are the toughest crowd of all! They're so bratty and socially exclusive!

Tracie said...

I did my student teaching in a middle school. I don't want to tallk about it. *reaches for Percoset*

Daffy said...

That's just priceless! How great that they had such a sense of humor! I would've laughed too!!!

Now, do please display your Medal of Honor for teaching middle school. I've worked at that level as well and I wouldn't descend into that ring of hell ever again! Of course my experience may differ greatly from yours because of the school district in which I worked. Still - hats off to you!

Great memoir today!

Cat said...

Hahahaha, great story! My mom teaches middle school and I admire her for handling that age group. It's a tough one.

Sonya said...

There needs to be more teachers like you..I can remember my middle school years and all my teachers were burned out,had their favorites and forgot about the rest of us. It wasnt the most pleasant experience for many

Melani said...

great post! I need to remember that when I want my boys to behave! LOL

Robin said...

Thats kids for ya...they are just trying to connect in their own way...actually very genuine...funny too...its sounds like you loved your job and were great at it...and dedicated...Im sure it came shining through to those kids..and they will remember you to..!

Jen said...

OH, that's rich! Love it! LOL! I survived 2 years teaching middle school, and the best teachers absolutely are the ones who care for their students. The rest of them shouldn't be teaching at all.