I thought I would be a great 7th grade teacher until I became one. Smothered in my own nervousness and excitement about so much change, I never quite fully realized what I was getting into. Luckily so because I am not sure, I would have said yes, if I had known just what this would hold. Yet through all of the ups and downs, the moments of sadness, the moments of frustration, the moments where I felt sure that I must be insane for going to school that day, there they were. Those crazy 7th graders with all of their emotions, all of their thoughts, all of their stuff that seemed to shroud them in mystery. Always there, always watching. Always poking away at the sense of security I had felt in my teaching skills. And I am so grateful that they did.
This year, and its not over yet, has taught me so much. When I tell people that 7th grade has been my biggest challenge yet, I am not joking, nor exaggerating. With their moods, and their doubt, and their sense of fairness, they have held my feet to the fire every single day, exhausting every teaching cell in my body. Yet, along with that exhaustion comes a few hard-earned lessons, for which I am forever grateful.
I have learned that when they say they don’t care is actually when they care the most. They wait for your reaction to see how to categorize you. They wait to see how their lackadaisical attitude will sit with you; will you be rattled or can you handle it?
I have learned that on the toughest days they will put on the bravest face, and only people who pay really close attention will be able to notice the subtlest of differences in their demeanor.
I have learned that when you think they are not paying attention, they actually are. That when you think they don’t care that you are there, they do. That when you think you have hit your lowest point as a teacher there is always a better moment coming your way, usually courtesy of something they just said or did.
I have learned that when I thought there was no way I would ever make a difference in their lives, they surprise me with their knowledge, with their passion, and with what they remember.
I have learned that relationships are above anything else, that it does not matter how engaging a lesson is, how fun a project may be, how much time you spent making sure everything was to their liking; if you don’t care about them, they do not care about you, or your lesson, or your project.
I have learned that it is ok to not be sure of yourself, to still put yourself out there, to get excited over picture books, to dance to ABBA in the middle of class, and to always, always, always have a smile on your face no matter how much you don’t want to. That’s what my incredible 7th graders have taught me; that I was not a good teacher until I taught them, and I still have a long way to go, but they believe in me, so it is time I start believing in myself.
I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.
9 thoughts on “What I Have Learned Being a Middle School Teacher”
It is so nice to read something that reminds me why I became a teacher. As the year is coming to an end and EVERYONE needs a break. Thanks for the nudge of encouragement that maybe they do listen. 🙂
You know was I am most impressed by? Your ability to be open and honest about your teaching and feelings. Thanks for sharing!
Hi Pernille, what a great reflection on the process of developing as a human!
I substitute-taught in 7th grade yesterday and I thought of you. I am often accused of smiling too much but I believe it IS possibe to be serious AND smile. Thank you for your generous posts on what it means to be a teacher.
love, love, LOVE this post. I spent 13 years in middle school and just moved up to HS this year. I’m learning and growing in many of the same ways you mentioned this year, as well. Love your honesty and your spirit.
They test you, because deep down, they really want your attention and direction. It’s amazing that we survive some days. To say we teach because it’s a passion, is an understatement. Channel their energy and keep doing the amazing things you do!