I started back to school last week. The first day of school we had A.L.I.C.E training. It was intense, but I was glad it was introduced to us. This is the first time we've had the training. The 2nd day we had our normal "welcome back" speeches from the superintendent, the principal, school committee, etc. In addition to that, a colleague of mine whom I really respect, won Teacher of the Year. She is the computer teacher at the middle school and she is wonderful. The kids really learn a lot in her class and she does some innovative, engaging projects. On top of that, she's super nice and extremely helpful to anyone on the staff that might need technology help. I was so happy for her. After our convocation as a staff, we all went back to our individual buildings to get our room ready, have team meetings, etc. I also had a mentor meeting. (I am mentoring a new teacher for the first time.)
Our students started school on Wednesday. I teach 6 classes a day. For my general music classes I have 1 8th grade class, 1 7th, 2 6th, and 1 5th grade class. I will see these kids for a 52 minute period for 22 days in a row (8th grade has 18 since they have an extra specialist class.) After music is over they will have tech ed, health, gym, computers, art, communications/tv and then gym again. (8th grade will also have robotics this year. This is a new thing and I think it's pretty cool.) I also teach 3 choruses- 5th grade, 6th and then a combined 7th/8th grade chorus. This is a year long class that is open to anyone. Lastly, I have an auditioned after school chorus that meets 2 days a week until 3:30. This is kind of like an honors chorus and I push these kids pretty hard. Because of that, they tend to be the leaders in my choruses.
So far the school year has gone smoothly. It has been really nice to reconnect with all the kids and to meet my new students. Chorus and Chorale get into full swing towards the end of the week so that's when I will feel like I'm really working hard. Honestly, I love my job so I feel very blessed. There is not a day that I don't laugh (at myself sometimes- today I accidentally flung a marker in my own face in one of my classes. I was proud of the kids for not blatantly laughing at me.) The only downside of the year so far is that we are currently in a heat wave here in Ma. I believe that every day we have had school, the temperature in my room has been over 90 degrees. The students are doing their best to pay attention but I can see the sweat dripping down their faces. Being in the room all day, there have been times that I could barely concentrate because I was overheated.
When I talk to someone about my profession for the first time many people will make comments about how they couldn't deal with middle school students. I really enjoy working with kids this age. Here's why:
1. Middle schoolers really live on the edge between being a kid and wanting to be an adult. I can challenge them through my teaching and set high expectations. (Higher than you many people would think.) I have students who can hold a conversation about music using all the proper terminology or students who can play at a level that some adults cannot. However, many, many times the kid in them will slip out. My favorite example of that happened a few years ago. I had brought my Chorale to do a concert for the local Masonic Lodge. They graciously provided dinner for my entire group and ate WITH us rather than just sequestering us in some corner. They decided to treat us to Chinese food. The plan was that we would sing an hour long concert for them, have dinner with them and then we would leave while they had a meeting.
The concert went really well and we sang some challenging music. Since it was the spring chorale, I had students from grades 5-8. We sang a few songs that were marketed towards beginning high school choirs so I was proud of their success with the pieces. After the concert we had a delicious dinner and at the end of the meal we were served fortune cookies. Many students read the fortunes and didn't know what they meant. One by one they came to me for an interpretation of their fortune cookie wisdom. This little boy in 5th grade came up and said "Could you tell me what this means? I don't get it." So, I gave it my best shot and his eyes opened really wide. All of the sudden he yelled out "I didn't know you spoke Chinese!!!!!" Classic middle school, Middle school kids can be hilarious.
2. The students (whether they want to admit it or not) are really looking for guidance. If you want an opportunity to be a good influence to a student- socially, emotionally, academically- middle school kids might provide that opportunity for you. They expect you to be firm but fair.
3. Middle schoolers tell it as it is. They wear their hearts on their sleeves. A gem from this week so far was "No offense, but what time is music over?" (I did take offense..lol) If you get an ugly hair cut (or highlights- my highlights were a big world-changing event for one of my 6th grade girls), a new pair of shoes, sparkly nail polish, etc you will know what your students think. Sometimes they will directly say those opinions and sometimes they will say it in a more subtle way (usually by staring at you with a weird look on their face.)
4. I once read that you should think more about teaching the child than teaching the subject. I think it's great advice, though not always convenient or easy. If they trust you middle schoolers will give you a lot to work with, Chorus and band are the only classes at the middle school that the kids can elect to be in. As a teacher this means that I can set expectations and "kick them our" if they don't meet those standards. Though it's pretty humbling to think about, many of the kids don't elect to take chorus, they choose to have more time with me. Students never run up and say "Chorus starts today! I can't wait!" It's always more like "I have YOU today!" or "What are we doing in chorus today?" I feel really privileged to know that they trust me enough to try new things (sometimes in front of hundreds of people), to do something they know is outside of their comfort zone (like singing way above or below their normal voice range) or to open themselves enough to sing with their hearts. When we work together it's pretty cool to hear the results. I have students who really look up to me and I really value all of them.
5. I also love that my job is challenging. I deal with hundreds of different personalities in 1 day (some all in the same kid in the span of 1 hour!) Sometimes I have 100 or more of them together at the same time. I like that I have to figure out a way to reach each child 'where they're at.' Each day is extremely different and it is rarely boring. I laugh every day and I'm mentally engaged with my subject and with the students. Are there times where I have bad challenges like a defiant kid or a child/parent who is hurt if they don't get into my auditioned group? Yes, of course, but that comes with the territory.
Do any of you who are reading work with kids? Middle schoolers? If you work with middle schoolers, what made you choose that age group?