When you teach 7th grade, people either think you’re nuts or a saint. Common responses to my chosen profession range from the wide-eyed Oh wow, to the I could never do that, to the That is such a tough age, to, my personal favorite, the It takes a special person to teach junior high. In other words, no one ever thinks you’re normal.
Even students wonder why we do what we do. I’ve had students ask me why on earth I would want to teach 7th grade Language Arts when I could do, well, anything else? (I admit, sometimes I wonder the same thing.) Yet some of these students want to be teachers themselves. They just never want to be junior high teachers.
And this is how it seems to be – teaching elementary or high school seems normal, but teaching junior high? Notsomuch. I can only assume this is because elementary children are still cute and like to sit in circles for story time, and because high school students seem more mature and teachers really get to delve deeper into their content areas. Junior high, on the other hand, seems to be just a cesspool or hormones, ADHD, and B.O. And it is, to some extent. Also, many people think of the movies when they think of what teaching must be like (Stand and Deliver, The Dead Poet’s Society, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Freedom Writer, or all those movies where the romantic female lead happens to be a sugary sweet kindergarten teacher), and how many films can you recall about middle school teachers? Uh, none.
Ok, so what was my point again?
Oh yes. Teaching junior high is actually great! In fact, there are plenty of perks working with this (admittedly odd) age group. You can trust me on this because 1) I am a junior high teacher, 2) I never thought I wanted to be a junior high teacher, and 3) I’ve taught in both high schools and elementary schools, so I can’t be biased.
Here are some of those perks:
- Most junior high students still buy into the rules of school. I’d never thought of this until I was able to compare the high school teaching and middle school teaching experience, but it’s true. Students come into junior high expecting to have to follow e rules that they don’t necessarily like. And, for the most part, they do. High school students also expect rules to be enforced, but when they think a rule is stupid, they tend to resist it more, like adults would. It’s human nature. Thankfully, junior high students aren’t fully human yet so they still think it’s normal to have to get a piece of paper signed in order to get a drink of water.
- We teach fun content. Secondary teachers typically chose to teach at the secondary level because we love our content area. I knew I wanted to teach at the secondary level because I love Language Arts – the reading, the writing, the analyzing, all of it. I wouldn’t be a teacher if I wasn’t an English teacher. As a junior high teacher, I don’t have to teach anything but L.A. And since this is the first time students have a full day of content specific classes, we get to cover a little bit of everything. For example, in my Language Arts classes (which is the writing course for 7th graders), I teach a memoir, short story, poetry, five paragraph essay, and persuasive speech unit. I also have to sprinkle in some grammar. For my Literacy classes (the reading course), I teach a mystery, science fiction, realistic fiction, historical fiction, nonfiction, and biography/memoir unit. It’s quite fun watching my students experience units like this for the first time. Always, everyone ends up loving at least one thing we’ve done throughout the year. Junior high is the place where students start to figure out who they are as students (and as individuals).
- Junior high students are funny. Really. They say and do the strangest things. They really are the most obscure and obnoxious group of people in the world. And I love it.
- They are like little kids and grown-ups all jumbled into one. In one class period, I’ll have a student make a scene as she walks out the room, calling me petty for kicking her out of the class. Later, she’ll apologize to me on her own accord and tell me that she sometimes lets her emotions get the best of her but that she’s trying to work on that. Wow. How old are you?
- I remember very little about the school part of junior high. This used to concern me as a teacher, but then I realized that so much of the foundation of what we did in high school was set at Hadley Junior High. And since I did pretty okay at Glenbard West, I must have remembered something. I like to think we’re setting up our students for the big ah-has that they’ll have and remember later.
- Most kids still like to read. Sadly, this number drops each year the kids get older. But while we have them, they are still hungry readers.
- Take a minute to imagine what it would be like to teach kindergarten…..There. Wasn’t that scary? The crying, the accidents, the hanging all over you, all times 25. (AHHH!) Kindergarten teachers are the real saints.
- I don’t have to write college recommendation letters or grade AP tests.
- I’m still taller than about half of my seventh graders. (At least this is true at the beginning of the year. By May, I’m only taller than about a quarter of them. A sad truth.)
- Every year we get to start over with new students so that don’t have to (Hmm, how do say this in a very politically correct way?) get very mad at our current students. I never said they didn’t drive us crazy.* Okay, yes: all teachers get to enjoy this perk. 🙂
See? It’s pretty great being a junior high teacher. As it turns out, you do not have to be a crazy person or a do-gooder after all. You do, however, need to have a high tolerance for hormones, ADHD, and B.O.
*When I say get very mad at, that really is all I mean. I wanted to use the word murder because it sounded funnier, but then I remembered that this is the internet and people are very sensitive, and I don’t want to get fired over this stupid little blog post.