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Archive for the category “Tips for New Teachers of Middle School Aliens”

Let Yourself Off the Hook

Newbie teachers or teachers-to-be who have observed in my classroom will always get this advice from me: You have to learn when and how to let yourself off the hook.

We teachers go into this crazy, effed-up world of education with a mother load of idealistic goals and values, as I believe we should. Why would anyone do it otherwise? However, balancing those ideals with in-your-face reality is a constant battle.

It took me a few years to determine where to draw the line. I frequently have to reflect on what’s using up my energy and how effective it is. So I remind myself about the following:

  • I can’t be everything to everybody.

At first, I thought I was expected to be super-teacher and that I could make a huge difference in every student (inflated ego?); now, I’m a big believer that if I can’t seem to connect with a student, even after great effort, I have to trust that there is someone else out there who will make an impact on that child: Another teacher, a mentor, a relative, a celebrity, someone.

  • If I burn myself out, I’m no good to anyone.

With a minimum of 120 kids per year, I can either spin my wheels and exhaust myself trying to make mountainous strides with each student, or I can try to follow the motto, “Quality, not quantity, is golden.” (I don’t know if I made this up, or if I’m ripping it off, nevertheless, I’m using it.)

How do I decide who gets most of my attention and energy? Just constant reflection, awareness, and prayer. There’s no magic formula because students are people, not numbers.

If you have a teacher motto that you’ve found works for you, please share. Or, if you are about to embark on the treacherous journey of being an educator, feel free to ask questions. I might not know the answer, but maybe we can find it together. 🙂


Don’t Wear Your Feelings on Your Ugly Teacher Sweater!

Have I offended you already? If so, you’ll need to toughen up if you’re going to survive middle school the second time around, and you should probably ditch the sweater.

Let me give you some personal examples of opportunities that await you.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked by a student, “Miss, are you PREGNANT?” Not with a gentle whisper in a private conversation, because most middle schoolers do NOT know how to whisper or the meaning of “private”. This question has been blurted loudly in an auditorium full of students and teachers, or in front of the entire class, or in the crowded hallways.

The first time, my friend and school librarian swooped in and set the young man straight, just as loudly or louder than he had yelled the question.

“NEVER, EVER ask a woman if she’s pregnant! I don’t care if she’s sticking out to here and she’s wearing a shirt that says “baby” with an arrow pointing to her belly!”

(Thank you, my friend. You know who you are.)

Did it bother me? The first couple of times, yes. But, I had to get over it and move on. There are a thousand demands on you as a teacher, and if you waste time getting your feelings hurt, you’ll never accomplish anything positive.

For the record, I’m not, never have been and probably never will be housing another human inside of my body. I’m simply not shaped like a model; I’m shaped like a teacher who frequently stress eats chocolate, pasta and bread.


Another, more serious aspect of teaching middle school aliens that will require you to toughen up is when you invest time, energy, and patience into a student who desperately needs someone like you to believe in him or her.

Occasionally, a student will recognize the effort that you have extended to help him or her be successful, but be ready for the times that students seem to show no gratitude whatsoever. Right when you think you’re gaining ground with them, building rapport, seeing small successes, BAM! They screw up or turn on you. Human nature at work.

I don’t mean this to be pessimistic or to discourage you from putting your neck out to invest in a kid. I’m just reminding you that you’re dealing with the simple nature of the beast (middle school age) and with some who do not come equipped with a skill set to receive and trust your attempts to support them. These kiddos will often disappoint you and fall short of your high expectations for them.

Do you need to have these idealistic expectations? Of course. Some will rise to the occasion. Others might let you know years later that you really make an impression upon them. For the majority of them, in my experience, you may never know what affect, if any, you had in shaping them.

Only you can determine how thick your skin can be or needs to be, depending on where you work. But, if you teach middle schoolers, I can guarantee you’ll need to find some kind of “tough” before you walk into your classroom. So, work hard for your kids, have high expectations, and acquire some alligator skin!

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