I once asked myself, “Why, of all the jobs I could have done, did I choose to become a teacher? No, not just a teacher, a middle school teacher?” I had to stop and ponder that for a while because I didn’t have an answer. In the end, I knew that I wanted to make a difference—not in the world or in the district, but in just one child’s life.
Middle school teachers wear multiple hats. We go above and beyond our regular duties by stopping fights, pulling duty in the hallways, and preparing our classrooms. Each classroom is filled with multiple brains growing and absorbing, charged with external stimuli. However, the battle to capture students’ attention is a very different matter with 30 minds in the classroom focusing on things like boys, girls, food, and sports. In my experience, providing what each student needs helps them focus more on learning and not their behavior.
Sometimes students need more than a learning environment. Effective middle school teachers must possess a natural empathy for all their students. Some students have difficult home lives and like to use teachers as their punching bags. These kids tend to feel threatened and exposed to their surroundings, and we must show them love, trust, and self-control and help them maintain a sense of worth. Occasionally, all they want is to rant and argue and have someone listen to them. The teacher can become the listener who allows them to vent. Sometimes, students stay for my UIL practice after school three days out of the week because they don’t want to go home. They seek out the love and affection in us, as teachers, that they don’t get from parents, guardians, brothers, or sisters.
Thinking outside the box is imperative in the middle school learning environment. Teachers must redirect students’ misbehavior discreetly because angry kids want attention, even if it is for bad behavior. Handling their behavior without calling attention to it helps the classroom stay in order. Showing respect for students is key to running a successful middle school classroom. As adults, we have to display the type of behavior we want our students to mirror. TeacherVision.com recommends some classroom management strategies for preventing bad behavior.
Our students live in a complex world, a world that immerses them in craziness. In today’s scary world, we are not just educators; we are surrogate mothers, fathers, guidance counselors, friends, and listeners. We may be the only ones they ever have, so my goal has always been to provide my students a safe and effective learning environment. I love when my students trust me enough to come to me with their struggles.
Engaging in meaningful conversations with these young adults keeps me in love with my profession. It does have its own complications, but I have learned adaptation is the key—and that’s what keeps me growing as a teacher. We are a special kind of crazy. We are responsible for guiding teenagers through some of their toughest years in life. We are challenged to inspire greatness in young minds. We are pushed beyond our limits; however, some days we are appreciated BEYOND our expectations. And it is in those days that I am reminded of that “why” question that I sometimes find myself pondering: I am making a difference…one student at a time.
Melissa Lynn McClenahan has been in the education field since 2002. She has a passion for eighth-grade language arts/reading and writing but has taught sixth graders as well. McClenahan received her English degree from the University of Texas Pan American. She truly loves teaching and hopes to continue enriching the minds of tomorrow for years to come.
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