Friday, October 29, 2010

Week 7: Sympathy For The Middle School Teacher?

A typical first conversation between myself (K) and a new acquaintance (N).

N – So What do you do?
K – I’m a music teacher.
N – Cool, what grades do you teach?
K – 3rd grade . . .
N – [bright smile]
K – 5th grade . . .
N – [smile has melted into concern]
K – 6th grade . . .
N – [concerns has become sympathy]
K – 7th grade . . .
N – [sympathy has transformed into terror]
K – and 8th grade.
N – [look of utter disbelief and confusion] . . . oh well . . . that sounds . . . um . . . so you chose to teach these grade?!?

People are excited, almost envious when they hear that I work with third gradets but as the grades creep into middle school people start to become concerned about the choices I made in my life. So it might sound weird to a lot of you that one of the highlights of my week was my sixth grade music class.

They were great. I presented “This Land Is Your Land” by Woodie Guthrie. I outlined how to explicate the lyrics going from the literal to the figurative meaning combining emotions and historical context to gain a personal understanding of the song. I broke them up into groups to analyze an assigned verse and then presented what they found to the class.

My sixth graders worked really hard. They delved deep into the text and came up with some awesome interpretations of the lyrics I had never thought about. It was a great experience exploring music as a group and I walked away from the class excited for the next lesson.

(You may be thinking I’m crazy for doing such a “elementary school” song with sixth graders but the reality of Guthrie’s most famous work is that it is a protest song. The final verses that are rarely performed describe the effects of the dust bowl and question “if” this land was made for you and me).

Now I understand why people think I’m crazy for having chosen to work with middle school students. Most of us think back at our own middle school experiences and do not think too favorably about them, and I’m part of that group. It was an awkward stage in my life when other kids seemed really mean, I didn’t really fit in anywhere and I felt clueless on what I was suppose to do to be “cool.”

Why do we remember middle school as such an awful time? I don’t know maybe it has to do with the way we perceived the world at that stage or it has to do with how other parts of our lives were so much better by comparison. I’m sure there’s someone who has done research on this subject and can give an answer why for so many of us middle school is remembered as the worst time in out lives.

Regardless, projecting our own feelings on students who are that age clouds us from the reality of being a middle school students. These children are developing the ability think outside of themselves and analyze the world around them in deeper and more significant ways. They are exploring the social norms and figuring out how they fit within their own subcultures and how that reflects the wider culture as a whole. Moreover, while they have the potential to create havoc and spread negativity throughout a school they also have the potential to look beyond the surface and celebrate what is awesome about the people around them.

I started the year with all of my middle schools students with this challenge:

"Look, people look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them that I teach middle school students and they think I’m insane when I tell them that I love it. People out there think that kids your age are mean, inconsiderate and unable to create meaningful and significant work. I tell them, they are wrong. Prove me right, and prove them wrong."

So far, they have.

1 comment:

  1. Kingsley, I love the challenge that you gave your middle school students, and I hope you don't mind if I use it with my students. I admire that you love working with middle schoolers. I teach grades 4 through 8, and I must admit that most days I enjoy the 4th graders more. They are easier for me, and in general they are sweeter, more cooperative, and usually love their teachers.

    My middle school years were probably my least favorite time also, and I think it was for most people. I think that is why it is even more important to have good teachers who really care about them for that time in their lives. They are lucky they have you.

    Middle school students are also capable of so much more than younger students though, so that is very exciting as a teacher. Because of that and because they need you more, middle school students can be more rewarding to teach than the younger ones.

    Like many things in life, I think that teaching middle schoolers is more difficult and there are days when things do not work, they act out, and I feel angry at them and wonder about my sanity in choosing this career. But every now and then they accomplish something amazing, or you see their face light up or smile, or they say something like thank you or band is my favorite class, or their parent or another teacher will tell you that you have made a positve difference in their life, or you can see the difference and how much music means to them. That's when you know that sometimes the things that are harder are the most rewarding and then I love my job!