TL;DR: Maybe. Although, it might not actually need to be fixed. I’m still working to figure this answer out.
I never expected myself to be a middle school teacher.
In my undergraduate experience, I was always so impressed and baffled by the people that said they wanted to be middle school teachers. “You mean to tell me you WANT to teach those kids?” I mean, middle school is…middle school. Administrators and educators across the planet will tell you, “If you can teach middle schoolers, you can teach anyone.”
I know who I was in middle school. I was unequivocally the worst version of myself that’s ever existed. I was angsty, angry, and, most of all, apathetic.
Yet, here I am. I’ve found myself in a middle school classroom, having the time of my life on this side of the story. Surely, I can’t be the only one. I know I’m not because I have a hallway full of coworkers that show up excited and energized to teach this age group.
An episode of This American Life focuses on the middle school experience from a former middle schooler’s perspective. I think her point of view radiates what many students feel as they spend time in our buildings. Toward the end of the conversation, the host, Ira Glass, asks her, “What can be done to make middle school better?” and very poignantly, she responded, “I don’t think you can really do anything about it.”
Really? Could it be true? I wish I had an answer.
To be fair and transparent, the conversation continues, and she mentions once she and her friends made it to high school, things had changed. “Whatever middle school was, it worked. Everyone is a lot friendlier, and everyone’s lives are a lot better now.”
At the beginning of the year, my 8th graders write memoirs. I play the prologue of this podcast episode for them to kick off the conversation. It leads students to develop some self-awareness while connecting to the shared experience of grades 6-8. We take many more moments to write to understand what middle school is, how they became who they are, even in their young adolescent states. Even so, I still feel like we barely scratch the surface. Do we fix middle school? No. Do we understand it and ourselves a little bit better by the end? Of course.
Does it need to be fixed? If so, how can we improve it? Or is it just fine?
If you’ve made it this far, do me a favor and reach out to me on Twitter to connect and let me know what you think.
Interested in reading more? Here are my last bits of writing.