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.
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.
Unhurried. Finding the magic in the middle of living. Capturing a life of ridiculous grace + raw stories.