Sunday, October 23, 2016

Ten reasons I teach middle school math

1. I tend towards the ADHD end of the spectrum. Scattered, bright, anxious. I am not cut out to be the calm presence a first grader needs. I made first graders cry, in fact. By mistake, I mean. My room is not a pinterest worthy picture but it is comfortable. Nothing is cute, nothing is perfect, and I sometimes have to switch gears quickly. This is not good for primary kids.

2. On the other end of the spectrum, I still love kids. As kids. So although I'm certified for high school math, I'm not sure if I'm ready to make that move just yet (I will eventually, I'm sure). I still like a little goofiness, giggling at accidental double entendres, and even appreciate real tears and frustrations when I'm not the cause--I mean, I like to try to make things better. Most older teens are moving beyond that kind of transparency.

3. Speaking of transparency, I like that middle schoolers are plain. I can see through them. If they are being sarcastic, it is deeply obvious. I sometimes miss sarcasm with adults--I assume that people are speaking their truth to me, unless, again, it is deeply obvious that we are joking around. So I get caught pretty easily in conversation. Maybe I'm naive about adults. But middle schoolers mean what they say--and when they don't, I know what they mean.

4. But there is humor. As opposed to first graders, who would never catch anything I said as funny because it wasn't funny to 6 year olds, middle schoolers get it. Not all of them, but enough of them that as a group they like to come to my classes. I love looking across the room and seeing that somebody caught what I said. Perhaps my favorite parts of the days.

5. Related to that, I can feel emotion in the room. They are adult enough to have a range of emotions that perhaps very small children don't in the same way. Oh, I can feel little kids' emotions. But in a middle school classroom, it's more of a challenge. And I know that I feed off emotion, good and bad, and in a room of 28 middle schoolers, I'm on fire. I feed off them and give back and the reciprocity of math and life and authenticity is just the best.

6. I remember middle school. I went to a small catholic grade school for 6th and 7th, and then a large public middle school for 8th grade. And the memories from that time are technicolor vivid. It was so hard and so real and awful and good and...just so hard. I can only hope that most of them in my classroom have an easier time than that, but I know some of them are having a hard time. So I want to do my best. I hardly remember first or second grade. I don't know how to relate to them. I can't downshift far enough.

7. They are hungry for authentic relationships and real adults to see them. And that is what I am best at.

8. I can only make things better. There were many things I could have screwed up with a first grader in my classroom. But the basics are covered by 6th and 7th grade--they read, they know basic bookkeeping skills, their brains are developing pretty well. Things might be hard for them, they may hate school, hate math, hate life. I can't make it worse. All I can do is love them and teach them math and try to make things a little bit better. I got a card at the end of the year from one of my 6th graders that read: You are the part of my day that doesn't suck. That's my goal.

9. I hated math. And 100% of my math teachers from K-12 and beyond, were terrible at their jobs. Terrible. I take it as my life's work to be the best math teacher these kids have ever had and will ever have. My self worth is tied up in this, in their success and understanding. I want them to walk into high school and have it be ok even when their Algebra I teacher sucks. Because it is likely that she or he will. One of my favorite things is when a freshman or sophomore comes back to visit, looks out at my 8th graders in the room and says, "Listen to her. You will miss this bad when she's not in front of the room anymore."

10. I can phone in the math. I do middle school math for a living! This is not hard stuff for me. So I can concentrate on why students are making errors, why students don't get the nuances or even the basics of what we're learning. And more than that, I can put my energy into relationship. Because I teach middle schoolers. Math is just my method. In the end, they walk out the door to high school math and beyond and hopefully I've set a nice foundation for them. But what I want is for them to reflect back on our time together and know that they were safe with me. And that maybe they missed me when I wasn't in front of the room.

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