The Formative Years
The following post includes the my new job title.
“I’m thinking of becoming a middle school English teacher,” I smile as I tell another curious person. The statement is met with a look of shock followed by, “Why???”
I’m not even surprised anymore by the reaction, it seems natural. My response at first was a shrug. I couldn’t answer because all I knew was that I was drawn to the 6th-8th grade level. Yet, over the past month since I've graduated God has shaped the true response in my heart. I’ve begun to realize that those 3 years of our lives are the awkward years. When most people look back on that time of their life they may or may not like what they see.
Those awkward years are the years where we begin to change both emotionally, physically, and mentally. 6th through 8th grade are the years that we begin to grow up. Our eyes are opened to new ideas and images. Our culture begins to effect who we are in a new way. Our bodies are developing, voices are changing, and we have absolutely no idea how to handle it. We are stuck in the middle because we can no longer play with blocks and we are not allowed to drive just yet. It’s a weird stage, and yet we take it for granted.
When I look back on those three years I see detention, heartache, bullying, confusion, change, but also love. I had some amazing teachers who will always be engraved in my heart. In 6th grade I had the first set of teachers to ever read my writings and praise my very one of a kind alien story (thank you Mrs. Mitchell, Mrs. Stevens, Mr. Taylor and the others I can’t quite remember). In 7th grade I had a science teacher, a english teacher, and a journalism teacher who all allowed me to be me and wholeheartedly encourage it (thank you Mr. Collins, Mrs. McNally, and Mrs. Devine). During 8th grade I had those same three teachers still stand by my side as I dealt with friendship, self-esteem, and parental issues. Every trial I faced they were all there to love on me. They helped me navigate those crazy waves. No, I didn’t get fully comfortable with myself during that time, but I did begin to realize I had support and extra love by people who only had me for about an hour and a half a day. As I got ready for bed recently I realized that the reason I am thinking about teaching middle school is because of that love and support.
Over the last month I have had the glorious opportunity to volunteer with the student ministry at River Point Church in Richmond. I volunteer on Sunday mornings with the middle schoolers and then in the afternoon with the high schoolers. Volunteering with the middle schoolers have made me realize a few different things about them. I’ve noticed how hard I have to pump myself up in order for them to see that it is ok to let loose. I’m there during worship jumping around like a maniac to show them that it is ok to praise God in that way. I’m clapping my hands to show them that God is worthy to be praised. Lastly, I talk to them about life in small group to let them know that I also dealt with some of the same issues they are currently dealing with. I want them to see that it is ok to be who they are. It’s ok to get a little bit crazy during worship. It’s ok to reveal the struggles you are dealing with. They need that. We all need that push. However, I feel they need it most of all. I know I did. The middle schoolers I've lead have illustrated that they are hungry for that. They want to hear what we have to say. They want to be included. They want to feel validated in what they do. They want to know that it is ok to pursue their dreams (as long as they follow Gods Word of course), and that they don't always have to be strong for everyone else.
I want to be that for them. I want the students I teach to not only learn about books and poetry, but also life. I want them to feel the same love and support that my middle school teachers gave to me during those awkward years. I don’t want them to feel as if they don't matter or that as their teacher I can’t relate to them, because I can. Middle school isn’t easy, neither is life, but those 3 years are the formative years. They are the gateway years. We test and try so many different ideals during those three years that once we get to high school we pick one of those images and carry it with us. I want the students I teach to carry the right image of themselves, and feel as though they matter when others may be telling them the opposite.
Now, last week I spent about 5 days with over a 100 middle schoolers at camp, and during that time I mentioned to a staff member that I am thinking about becoming a middle school english teacher. After I told her she gave me a different response than what everyone else had given me. She responded with, "it takes a special person to work with middle schoolers". It wasn't in a condescending way, but in a awe inspiring way. Middle schoolers are a handful, but they are just in a time of searching, and need someone to help them along the way.
So, for those out there that may be looking at middle school with disgust take a moment to think back to those three years. I’m pretty sure there are things you would like to change about that time, but you can’t. I wonder if you had a teacher or administrator take time to invest in you like mine did. If not, I bet you wish there had been. I want to be that. So, with that being said, I am happy to announce that I will be working with Yes Prep Public Schools in Houston as a middle school ELA teacher.