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Because of WMS…

I began my career as a seventh grade language arts teacher at Wawasee Middle School. Thirteen years later, I remain in the same district, but in a different position. My career path has taken me into hundreds of classrooms. I’ve been able to learn about writers from preschool to college. I’ve developed many diverse relationships. It’s been a very good thing, except it’s taken me away from my first love — middle school.

I chose middle school. This fact defines me. Often, people believe teachers land in middle school because they couldn’t get a “better” job. Who wants to teach middle school? many will ask.

I do.

Over the years my work has taken me away from middle school. I am fortunate for these experiences. In fact, I’ve been heard to say, “When I’m in a primary classroom, I think I missed my calling.” I really believe this…until I’m with middle school kids.

At the end of last school year, it was decided I would get to spend more time in middle school this school year than in the past. A lot of my coaching time and energy has went to other schools in the district. 2012 – 2013 would have a focus of middle school. This decision was made based on where my time has been spent in the past, as well as new teachers in the district, not on school grades or teacher performance. It isn’t a matter of fixing, but of fairness. Middle school has been on the back burner in my coaching life, and this year it would become a priority.

In all honesty, I grieved losing time in elementary.

Then I began hanging out in middle school classrooms and spending time with the staff where I “grew up” as an educator. I felt like I was coming home after being gone too long. These first few months of the school year have rekindled a flame inside of  me. I remembered my passion for middle school. I remembered why I chose them. I remembered the educator that first lived inside of me — a middle school teacher.

More importantly, I’ve realized the impact WMS has had on my teaching life. I wouldn’t be where I am without them. This blog wouldn’t exist. I wouldn’t have the same voice. I wouldn’t be me. I’m reminded of What You Know First by Patricia McLachlan. She writes:

What you know first stays with you my papa says.

But just in case I forget

I will take a twig of a cottonwood tree…

Because of WMS, I know…

  • It takes an entire staff to meet the vast array of middle school needs. One subject is not more important than another. One gender is not better than another. One position is not better than another. It takes us all. At WMS each adult is uniquely positioned to meet some of the needs. Together we meet almost all of the needs. This is the middle school concept at its finest.
  • Goodwill goes a long way. When you work among a staff who believes the best in one another, you are able to become the best possible version of the teacher you want to be. In addition, when your team looks for the best in students, it makes you believe the best in students.
  • Relationships matter. I’ve learned to see beyond what kids can’t do and look for what they can do, and who they are at their core, because of the staff at WMS. I’ve also learned how to connect to kids in a zillion different meaningful ways through observing WMS staff in action.
  • Quirky works. Let’s face it, you can’t work in a middle school without being quirky. I’ve learned to embrace what makes people unique and love the differences.
  • Being a team player takes selfless determination. WMS is organized by teams. As a seventh grade teacher, I was a member of the seventh grade team. Although the team has changed in the past nine years, they still make me feel like I am part of them. In addition, I’ve had the privilege to work with other teams in my position as an instructional coach. I am struck by the cohesion and loyalty every team has for each member. I’m reminded our work is more sophisticated and powerful when we work together rather than standing alone.
  • Teachers change lives. Getting to roll up my sleeves and work alongside middle school kids, I’m reminded of the huge transition middle school is. They are moving from kid to adult. Everything is changing — their bodies, their moods, their thinking about the world. Everything is felt with intensity. They are up and down. They are funny and sad. They are spot-on and forgetful. It is all rolled up in one package — adolescent. Many people do not want to be in the same room as a single middle school student, because you never know what you are going to get. I spend my days with people who love to be in rooms filled with middle school — the more the merrier (even hundreds, right Ms. Bechtel (the band/choir teacher)?).

What you know first stays with you. I’m fortunate these are the things I knew first and that I am reminded of them even when the world of education is shaky.

14 thoughts on “Because of WMS…

  1. I was a middle school/high school teacher for many years, and then one day I woke up questioning if I even had the passion to continue. I just read a great book you might like, it’s called “Teach Like A PIRATE” by Dave Burgess. You can check him out and get the book right from the website After reading this book, and really taking some time to sit and reflect, I remembered why I got in to teaching in the first place. I was able to find my passion once again and it just so happened that my passion was in teaching at the elementary level. Thanks for the wonderful post!


  2. Thank you Ruth for sharing your thoughts. I absolutely LOVE middle school kids and never thought that I would. I LOATHED middle school when I went through it, but found absolute joy when I work with these kids! It is the transition between kid and adult… so many are i adult bodies (or are waiting for these), but have kid values….. or they’re just trying to figure it out. I love what I do. I’m so fortunate to work on the 7th grade team at WMS… it’s a great place to be! Happy Thanksgiving!


  3. I love the part about being somewhat ‘quirky’. I loved my team in 7th…it was where I grew and expanded my beliefs and there are many days that I wonder why I left. Who knows what God has in store for me when I leave the district at the end of next year. I would be so happy if there would be a coaching opportunity at that level, it was my best fit…except during those years when my own kids had the crazy hormones bombarding. Happy Thanksgiving Ruth. I’m so thankful for your thoughts. xo


  4. I am blessed to get to be a middle school teacher and to learn from–as well as alongside– you, Ruth! We have an amazing staff at WMS! I wouldn’t trade ’em for anything! They are caring teachers who value kids…. Thank you for the reflection on your WMS family!


  5. Your choosing middle school sounds much like my choosing elementary. Thank you for sharing this personal post. It was a nice reminder for me to step back and reminisce.


  6. What a lovely tribute! Middle school is a special place, a special time and your piece reinforces my long held belief that it takes the especially gifted among us to live there. I hold my colleagues there in high esteem. The story of the team work at WMS encourages me. Thank you for sharing it.


  7. I have learned from being a teacher of multiple grade levels now that my first love (elementary) stays with me. I love being with the same students year after year, watching them grow as people and as writers. But, somehow, like my children when they left the nest, I am ready to send them forth to middle school. I love seeing them later and getting the hugs and the affirmations that I had an influence. Just yesterday a former student said, “I wrote my best poem ever this year.” How cool that he would share that with me!
    Thank you for building this affirming space where we can share our experiences and grow as teachers and writers.


  8. Thank you, Ruth for your wonderful posting on middle school and WMS. I taught in a junior high for four years and was thrilled (or thought I was thrilled) when an elementary position opened. After one year I was back at the middle school level as I knew it was where I belonged. It takes a special person to work with middle school kids, just as it does to work with elementary and high school. WMS has been my life for 15 years and I love the people with whom I work. I’m especially glad to have you in my building. I’ve learned so much from you!


  9. You made me miss my middle school days. I was first a 7th grade teacher–English first, then reading. I was lucky to always have a great teacher to co-teach with. I loved 7th grade and didn’t think I would ever leave. I love my high school kids, but a part of me will always be a 7th grader at heart. (Maybe this is why I feel such a connection with you!)


  10. Your school sounds wonderful. I started out as a special ed. teacher. It is so true that what you learn first stays with you. Being a special education teacher is in my blood and has made me a far better classroom teacher.


  11. I, too, started at the middle school level and absolutely loved it. I’ve been teaching high school English for five years now, and still miss being in a middle school classroom. Maybe someday I’ll move back to the world of “quirkiness” :)! Thank you for sharing, have a great Thanksgiving!


  12. Thank you, Ruth. My life changed for the better, too, for being at WMS and being with that 7th grade team. I couldn’t have done it without them and Writing Workshop–little did we know WW would set us free!!! Happy Thanksgiving!


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