Six Reasons Why Middle School Rocks

A New MiddleWeb Blog

not easy tween logo 210 300The majority of my 20-plus years of teaching have been at the middle school level. When people ask what I do and I tell them “teach tweens,” their response is generally something along the lines of “better you than me, sister.”

If that’s how they feel about ten to fourteen year olds, then they’re probably right. And it’s okay.

Just as I cannot fathom how difficult it would be to pursue a career as a soldier or a nurse (or a kindergarten teacher!), they cannot understand why I would willingly subject myself to a room full of hormonal adolescents on a daily basis.

At times, I’ll admit, I’ve asked myself the question. I’ve even tried something else, but I’ve always ended up back in front of middle school children. I’ve had to face the fact that this is where I am meant to be, and I must be getting something out of it or else why would I return year after year?

6 reasons why middle school rocks

In truth, as much as I like to think I am making a significant impact on the lives of children (and I am confident that I am), this job completely fulfills me. There is no other job that aligns so perfectly with my personality and skill set. I get as much as I give, and I get excited every fall. (I’ll resist inserting a selfie here.)

There are many reasons why I believe teaching this age is the best job in all of education. Here’s some of why I ♥︎ middle school.

1. Variety

hands ! 270Teaching middle school is never the same day twice. Sometimes, it’s not even the same from the beginning of class until the end depending on what drama has erupted in the interim. Middle school students have very little control over their bodies and their emotions, and they can be completely different children from day to day. I enjoy the challenge of working with whatever personality a particular child chooses to show me M-F. It keeps me on my toes.

In addition to variety in the students, I am able to experiment with any fun lesson idea I come up with on very willing guinea pigs. I get bored easily (just like they do), and we enjoy having a wide range of novel experiences in class. Although they know the general structure of the class, they never quite know exactly what is coming. It keeps them excited and keeps me energized.

2. Laughter

Middle school students have a ready sense of humor. They are not yet so jaded that they are too cool to crack up at something corny. They have no filter and say any old thing that pops into their heads, often with unintentionally hysterical results.

My sixth graders are at the age where they still think I am funny and not embarrassing. It gives me a little ego boost when I hear them tell their friends, parents, or my colleagues that I am funny and my class is a good time. I can’t imagine having a job where I don’t get at least one, deep belly laugh every day.

3. Honesty

hands painted-point smile 3If you aren’t sure about whether the new haircut you tried is flattering, you will find out in 0.2 seconds if you teach middle school. Some kids may come right out and tell you to your face, and others will stage whisper it to a friend, but you will always know how they feel. Most have not yet mastered the poker face, and I can truly read them like a book.

They are not good at keeping secrets either, so eventually they spill the beans, even if they implicate themselves in the process. If they love a lesson, I will know immediately, and if they are bored, I hear that too. Whether their sentiments are positive or negative, I always understand where I stand. It’s a beautiful thing that they are able to open themselves up to the world and say what they are truly feeling.

4. Quirks

I love how middle school students are caught in between wanting to blend in to the crowd and wanting to be their authentic, quirky selves. Middle school time is like dog years in terms of development and the students that enter in sixth grade barely resemble the eighth grade graduates. In between, it is fascinating to watch the endless permutations that everything – from their hairstyles to their handwriting – goes through.

Because I was an awkward adolescent who never quite felt comfortable in my own skin, I empathize with what they are experiencing. I bond with the underdogs and outcasts, find that special something inside of them, and try to bring it to the forefront. I was also bullied by a couple of mean girls, so I know how treacherous it can be to navigate the complexities of popularity and friendship. Middle school kids, with all of their strange and wonderful idiosyncrasies, are my people.

5. Curiosity

hands painted-gr hand plus 2 bMiddle school students often seem to be going through a second toddlerhood (including some “terrible two”). However, instead of learning how to walk and feed themselves, they are learning how the world works and trying to find their place in it.They are naturally playful and experimental and can still feel joy in a new experience.

They are not yet too cool for school. They are existential dreamers still willing to take risks. Most days, I am in awe of some insight they have shared, and it reminds me that I am witnessing profound learning happen in real time. It’s quite a thrill.

6. Impact

Middle school students are in the necessary developmental stage of separating from their parents and establishing their own identity, but they still need adult guidance to get there. As a result, middle school teachers function in loco parentis, but without the arguments or slamming of bedroom doors.

Many of us have even had the experience of a student accidentally calling us mom or dad. They are still seeking their parents’ approval, but they also want that from their teachers. They have not yet decided that they know more than I do, and they are willing to listen to what I have to say. This puts me in a powerful position and I don’t take that responsibility lightly.I know that I have the power to harm or heal.

My words and actions define me and I take being a role model very seriously. They are looking to me to see another example of what it means to be an adult, and I can think of no greater honor.

happy-hands-570It’s destiny

It is true that middle school is generally considered the most difficult age to teach, but I feel as if I am destined to be here and I can’t imagine my life without seeing “my kids” every day. It’s the toughest job I’ve ever loved.

The logo for the It’s Not Easy Being Tween blog is the result of a collaboration between Cheryl, who has an art background, and her former student Daniel, now in his late 20’s, who “is an amazing artist–the best I ever taught.”

Cheryl Mizerny

Cheryl Mizerny (@cherylteaches) is a veteran educator with 25 years experience – most at the middle school level. She began her career in special education, became a teacher consultant and adjunct professor of Educational Psychology, and currently teaches 6th grade English in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Cheryl writes about student motivation and engagement at The Accidental English Teacher. Read more of her MiddleWeb articles here and here.

25 Responses

  1. Cheryl,
    I adore this article! I’ve just started back for my 35th year of teaching, 26 have been teaching middle school. I’ve tried other grades and settings, and this is where I belong for all the reasons you’ve shared. Last week was our first week back and I woke up hours before the alarm. There’s a specialness to teaching “Tweens” as you have so eloquently shared.
    Your students are lucky to have a teacher who believes in them and applauds their “tween-ness”

  2. Wonderfully written. Exactly spot on. These are the same things I love about “my kids”. Thank you for sharing and have a terrific school year.

  3. Thank you so much. This is why I love Middleweb. We all get how fabulous middle school kids are. Have a great year!

  4. dogtrax says:

    What a great piece, Cheryl. You captured the unknown excitement of every day in the middle grades. It is great to have your voice in the mix.

  5. Cossondra George says:

    Yes! Yes! Yes! I love them all, their quirks, their honesty, and most of all their unpredictable natures.

  6. Gary Kaplan says:

    I, too, teach 6th grade (humanities) and found your points to be right on. This is a second career for me (after law for 35 years) and I find it totally rewarding. Watching the 6th graders grow into 8th graders, then high school, is so amazing. Keep up the good work!

  7. Jen B says:

    I really love this article. I think you’ve really captured middle school well. I’m a music/chorus teacher so I get to see/hear them all work together to make something beautiful. It’s nice to be able to teach them to harness their emotions and use them in a positive way.

  8. MrsEWp says:

    This is my 4th year in 8th grade, after ten in 7th, and I couldn’t agree more! I love teaching middle school. And to think I once believed in grad school that I was more suited to 11th/12th grade…

  9. Beth Shaw says:

    Bravo, my friend! Your words beautifully express my own thoughts. I love middle school.

  10. Lynn Jankowski says:

    This is the start of my 25th year teaching and my 9th year in the library. I absolutely love middle school and am amazed every day by how much tweens read … even with all the tech at their fingertips. My goal every day is to find that “just right” book that will get a reluctant reader to fall in love with reading.

  11. Yes! You have captured this so perfectly. Exactly why I love teaching middle school. Thank you for sharing.

  12. Erin Scozzafava says:

    Reading this brought me so much joy! I teach high school science, and voluntarily took on 100 9th graders this year after years of teaching 11th and 12th graders. I am having a great year, and I am thoroughly enjoying teaching the freshmen- for many of the reasons you stated! They are like sponges in comparison to the “all-knowing” 12th grade mentality. While they may be a bit rambunctious and attention- seeking…..they are not yet jaded and still exhibit traces of the precious, child-like delight that, as a parent, I hope my children never really, ever lose. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Robin Stewart says:

    Oh, you hit the nail on the head! I’ve loved reading this. It is exactly why I love teaching Middle School too! Thank you for sharing this with us.

  14. Lee LeRoy says:

    Great article! Spot on!

  15. Lisa Meyers says:

    I teach 8th grade and I get a similar, or worse, response when asked what I do and what grade I teach! I love “my kids” and the challenges and inspiration they provide me with daily. I am in my 16th year and I still LOVE teaching. Thanks for sharing!

  16. radelman2007 says:

    Me too Me too Me too! And, to all the pluses and perks you’ve mentioned, I’d add the thrill of watching the development of ethical sensibilities. A teacher who cares about human rights / animal rights / our natural world. . . and who shares the rationales and the feelings with authenticity . . . that teacher gets to observe awakenings. Students see that it is okay to care about stuff a lot. The iron is hot.

  17. Middle School is such a challenging experience. I always tell my students that I wouldn’t go back to being 13 or 14 for any amount of money. Awkward, gawky, emotional, self-consciousness…I remember. I attempt to be the teacher that I needed at that age. My students are so dear to me – they still have fun doing art projects and drawing and they still teach me new things everyday. I feel lucky to have so many young people in my life to keep it interesting.

  18. Tricia Eaton says:

    Love this article for all the reason above and then some! Thank you for “getting” these kids….and us, their teachers!

  19. Ellen Ma says:

    Hooray for you and all of the devoted, caring teachers who have responded to your article! As a parent I have had 50+ years as a 24/7 teacher with my children and now my grandchildren and I love tweens and teenagers. It truly is a thrill to watch these youngsters wend their way from childhood to young adulthood. I wish they all could have a teacher like you. Thank you for the job you do for your students.

  20. Paul says:

    I agree with you 100%. I was a television meteorologist for 26 years and left to teach sixth-graders. Your comment, “This is where I am meant to be,” is exactly the way I feel. Yes, middle school (and sixth-grade) rocks!

  21. Julia Z says:

    I love this entry! I am completing my student teaching right now at UC Santa Cruz. I went into the English Education field thinking that I wanted to teach CONTENT. I thought that I loved literature and the way it moved me and resonated with me so much that I wanted to pass that on to my students. I thought high school would be the best place for that. I was wrong. I fell in love with the school/students in my first placement: a wonderful middle school with bright and unique educators/students. The energy, the enthusiasm, the vulnerability, the hope, I loved it all. I’m convinced I belong in a middle school classroom, and I am so excited to bring my passion, warmth, and overall joy of interacting with the skills/content/and personality that these beautiful years afford.

    I’m looking forward to future entries on this blog that will help me navigate this wonderful and exciting career choice! Even though I’m so young in this profession, I feel like I’ve already learned a bit about how much stronger we are together as educators of the next generation. I am so fortunate to call upon the experience of the experienced. Thank you!

  22. Jenn says:

    middle school 8th grade was the most difficult. I love 5th and 6th grade

  23. David Hollensteiner says:

    Great article ! I am now a father of two And frequently have told my tweens that for me it Wasn’t high school that was the most memorable and most fun, it was junior high. I’m a 57-year-old man and most of the long-term relationships I have are with friends that I’ve met in junior high .

  24. Cheryl Mizerny says:

    Yesterday, a person on twitter quoted a line in this post in which I had used the word “tribe” to describe people with whom I have an affinity. I was distressed to see this quote because in the time since I originally wrote this post, I have learned that this is an inappropriate, offensive use of the word and I no longer use it. I asked the editors of Middleweb to change the phrase from “my tribe” to “my people” and they happily did so. When you know better, you do better. I hope you will join me in this work of being the best model for our students and changing when we realize we’ve made an error.

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