Fifty Two Weeks of Adventure #37: Tales From the Seventh Grade

I have a friend who teaches 6th grade history and media studies at a private school in Raleigh. She is pretty great at what she does and seems to really enjoy it (for the most part).  I’ve always felt a bit in awe of her, knowing that she voluntarily goes into whole classrooms full of tweens on a daily basis. Another friend (the one we went hiking with in Charlotte last week) teaches history and Latin to middle schoolers and also coaches several teams. Again, a fantastic teacher who seems to genuinely enjoy what he does. I’ve always felt that it takes a special person and personality to enjoy that awkward middle school age group and I’ve also always felt that I was not one of them. This week I put that theory to the test.

I am still actively seeking employment here in Columbia as several part-time and freelance opportunities I’d been trying to line up have fallen through. One of the few things I have been successful at was getting hired on as a tutor at a local (very nice) private school. When I interviewed to be a tutor I also interviewed to work as a substitute teacher and this week I got my first call to come in.

I got a text at 8 AM asking if I could sub last-minute. I was still in pajamas and hadn’t even had a first cup of coffee. So naturally I said yes. I had no idea what grade or subject I’d be teaching, but I pulled myself together and said a quick prayer that it was something I knew something about. Especially since this was technically my first time teaching in an American classroom.

When I arrived at the school I was taken to a middle school classroom full of maps where I deduced that the class had something to do with geography. It was 7th grade geography. Luckily, the teacher had created a PPT presentation for that day which was on the computer. I quickly tried to remember everything I knew about maps, globes, equivalency and confluency. The reservoir in my brain proved to be decidedly shallow, but, as every good teacher knows, when in doubt, fake it! Or Google it if you have time and/or can do it discreetly.

The first class came in wearing neon green and orange and yellow (it was Spirit week, and “Neon Day,” a memo I clearly had not gotten in my black and white ensemble) and talking a mile a minute. “I’m Mrs. Dunn. I’m subbing today,” I said over the sound of their chatter and my own pounding heart. And then…I taught.

I taught four geography classes and a homeroom class. To 7th graders. And I kind of loved it.

Sure, they were more chatty and rambunctious than was probably ideal, but I was surprised by how endearing I found them. In seventh grade they’ve reached the age where they’ve realized that one great way to get out of work when they have a sub is to distract them with lots and lots of questions, most of which I didn’t answer.

“Where’s Ms. H? Are you our permanent sub? Could you be our permanent sub? You have an accent (hah!) Where are you from? What’s on your shirt? Is it kangaroos? Is it dinosaurs? I think it’s cats. Where’d you get it? Where is your necklace from?”

And a few of which I did:

Student: Are you normally a geographer teacher?

Me: No, I used to teach English.

S: Then how do you know so much about geography?

M: Because I’m an adult.

S: I can see why you were a teacher. You’re good at it. I actually feel like I’m learning something.

M: Thanks. (Maybe this was sucking up, but it still made me feel good!)

There were also the funny compliments which were possibly meant only to distract me, but I like to think they were genuine.

S: I love your eyebrows.

M: Thanks.

S: No, really. They’re perfect. Look! (All the girls in the classroom look and sigh in envy) Wow. They really are.

M: Ummmm, thanks… (If only they know. My eyebrows are actually the bane of my existence beauty-wise. They look ridiculous 92% of the time).

In the end we made it through with few casualties and apart from feeling rather more tired than normal I have to admit that I had fun. Perhaps teaching middle school is not quite the hell I imagined it to be, but it still was a big adventure!

If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can also click this button to read other bloggers’ adventures. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few. If you missed last week’s adventure hiking in Charlotte you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.

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15 comments

    1. My experience in Korea really prepared me for having to change things last-minute. Schools in Korea are last minute about everything and it can be very frustrating if you can’t come up with something on the fly. These kids were old enough to express opinions and talk back, but it also helped that we speak the same language so we could communicate much more easily than in Korea!

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  1. I’ve spent my entire career teaching middle schoolers, and it’s just fun. When I moved into the instructional coach role and wasn’t in the classroom full time, I’d often seek out sixth graders when I was having a bad day. There’s just something about how mercurial and optimistic and emotional they are that makes them delightful to work with. Also, I substitute taught after I had my children and before I went back to work full time. It was an excellent education for me even though I had taught for a few years before I had the kids. I learned so much about what works and doesn’t work in the classroom during those couple of years. I hope you’ll find this experience valuable as well.

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    1. That’s so cool, Joni! I didn’t realize that. I wonder if maybe I just needed to be a little older and further removed to appreciate middle schoolers. The older I get, the younger and cuter they seem to me. 🙂 I love what you said about them being mercurial and emotional and optimistic in a really unique way. I think that’s exactly what I enjoy about it. I hope I get more opportunities to work with them in the future.

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  2. Lily, I’d just like to warn you that my education career started as a substitute. The fact that you loved it (and sounds like they learned from you), may indicate a calling. I loved reading this!

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