Anyway, I finish this degree in May, and that means I am student-teaching right now. I just started this week at a middle school with 8th graders. When I originally envisioned myself teaching out of the college arena, I pictured myself in front of high schoolers. Mostly because, I think, they are the closest age-wise to the students I have been teaching. However, the more time I spend with middle school students, the more I love them (I had a placement with them in the fall). In fact, if it wouldn't mean more years of school and loans and bills, I'd think about getting my license in 4th through 9th grade!
Every time I meet someone new, or someone finds out how my life is changing, people are asking me if I'm crazy and if I really want to do this and why in the world I would ever want to leave my behaved college students and the comfort of curriculum un-threatened by testing. I don't mind answering this question, but I don't enjoy answering it when it is asked in a way that dismisses my decisions as ridiculous and makes me feel stupid before I have even had the time to reply. I'll tell you about my decision if you want to listen, but please actually listen and don't brush me off as an idiot. Also, because this is my little internet space, I'll even give you the honest-to-god truth here with my answer, which I rarely do because people seem to find it ridiculous and look at me like I'm a total moron.
I love teaching. I love pretty much everything about it. It took me a long time to be able to say that. I can't thank god enough for giving me the opportunity to teach as an MFA student because it has led me here. Teaching is, without a doubt, the most rewarding thing I have ever done. It is also THE MOST DIFFICULT job I have ever had. Period. Of course, since my life path always seems to mean I do things the hard way, this makes total sense. I'd never be satisfied with something easy. I also never knew that helping kids was going to be so very important to me, but it is. The past few years I've been teaching college kids, and even though I've had a blast doing it, I've always felt like I could be doing more and making more of an impact--like the issues my college students come in with could be remedied much earlier on in their educations and their chances for success in school later would greatly be increased. One of my thoughts, since the very first semester I graded papers, has been that I'd really like to teach more fundamental concepts and help kids really be ready to get out of middle/high school and arrive at college prepared for the coursework. When I've said this to people, I've been told the reason the kids aren't prepared is testing. And I haven't taught at the secondary level yet, so I am by no means an expert. However, I believe that testing can be taught while teaching challenging content. I'm not going to say more about that than what I"ve already said because people tend to get very upset about the whole thing. So reason 1 I want to go lower: I think I can be of more service to kids at an earlier stage in their lives, and that will, in turn, get them further in their futures.
Another reason is money. I'll be honest. The income of an adjunct instructor just simply is not worth all the work it takes to run a class to me. People also like to look at me funny when I say this, but I think a lot of adjunct instructors will tell you I'm not insane. Full-time professorship? Not easy to get. At all. Also, not the best position for me. If it comes down to it, sure, I'd keep going in college teaching. It has been an incredible start to this journey I've been traveling, and for that I can't ever be thankful enough, but I'm ready to leave it and try my hand at something else...even though I still fear that I am not going to be good at it.
And the main reason? The one I leave out of my answers a lot? It's the kids. More than any other time in my life, I can clearly remember my years in middle and high school. But my most challenging times in life were spent from about 7th through 10th grade. I spent a lot of time feeling bad about myself. I wasn't cool enough. I didn't have the right clothes. I hated my hair. I was too skinny. I felt insecure and not confident and I hid behind a label of "smart kid" for pretty much all of my secondary schooling. I could have done so much more, but I let fear hold me back. And I'm still working through that now! As an adult!
At any rate, I remember how it felt to be the kids I teach. I didn't forget what a catastrophe it was when I never got asked to dance at our school dances. Or how awful it felt with someone asked me out for his friend as a joke--and I didn't know it was a joke until everyone was laughing at me. I want to teach those kids--the kids that were me and my friends at that age. And I want to teach them that the other kids--the ones who are laughing at them--that they feel the same way too sometimes. And that these crappy experiences really truly do mold a person. I'm thankful I wasn't a part of the popular crowd at school. It did mean that I didn't feel accepted a lot of the time, that I had some mean things said to me, but it also meant that I wasn't faced with some of the pressures they were faced with at such a young age. It also meant that I came out of high school with a pretty strong sense of who I was at the time (though that has significantly changed over the years). I want to give that kind of kid, the kind I was, the extra push they need to get through it all. It's altruistic, that I know. And I know that being an adult means I won't get in on their hugely important conversations or events, but I want to make them all feel accepted. Because to me, the few teachers who really stand out in my mind from high school and middle school, those were the few teachers who put us all on an equal playing field and didn't play favorites. Those were the teachers who made everyone important and sometimes took a little extra time with a student when he/she needed to be listened to--or took the extra time to push them to explore in a direction a little different than they thought they should head. Those few teachers really made a huge impact on my life, and that's the kind of teacher I want to be. Nothing is more important than feeling like you have a place when you're in middle school, and it's so easy to feel like you don't. Everything and everyone changes rapidly at that age, and it can be a really kind of soul-shaking time in life. I think adults forget that and often dismiss middle school kids as just a mess of melodrama and hormones, and while that may be the case, there is a lot more to them than that.
Some of you may be a bit thrown off by this post because I didn't like kids, especially teens, for most of my life. That wasn't really the truth, and it took a long time for me just to figure it out myself. I'm really committed to this career path, and I am really excited about my future.
And to the naysayers that still exist, particularly one person who greeted a class of mine by laughing at us in a mocking way and saying, "Look at them. They think they're going to make a difference," get over it. Someone has to teach. It might as well be people who are invested in it, right?