Today’s post comes from an email I received this morning from Connor, a college student (used with permission):
I’m currently a sophomore in college and I have to decide whether to teach middle school English or high school English. What made you choose high schoolers over middle schoolers? Are there any tips you can give me to help me decide?
Congratulations on your decision to move to this side of the teacher’s desk! As I mentioned in my most recent video, I also was torn between middle and high school when I started my student teaching program. The best tip I can give to help with this decision is to spend some time in both settings and just see what you think. Is there a summer school program where you could volunteer a few days? Is there a YMCA or community center where you could volunteer? You probably already have a gut instinct about which level you’d prefer and that’s what you should follow if you have to make a decision soon or won’t have time to spend with any tweens or teens before your paperwork is due.
The good news is that a secondary credential in most states covers grades 6 through 12, meaning you can always change your mind later. Lots of teachers I know have ping-ponged between the middle and high school as they figured out the right placement. Often, it’s more of a practical decision based on what jobs are available and then, in time, we all figure out where we want to be and make strategic moves as jobs become available.
For me, the decision was easy once I faced the day-to-day realities of the classroom. I student-taught 6th graders in the morning and 11th graders in the afternoon. The 6th graders were cute, but the 11th graders felt like home. Why? Hard to say, but I suppose it was a combination of my personality, the curriculum, and the kids themselves.
To be effective, you need to be authentic. Kids can smell a fake and I think I had too much edge for those sixth graders. I could be honest with the 11th graders in a way that was a mismatch for 6th grade. I mean, some of those middle schoolers were still losing baby teeth. Sheesh. So I had to tone myself w-a-y down for that class and sometimes felt I was acting like a teacher instead of being a teacher. I’ve never felt that way around high school kids.
The juniors at George Washington High were funny and idealistic and complicated. My work seemed to have a more immediate impact on their lives and I liked that feeling. Also, classroom management with the older kids was more mentally stimulating, a bigger puzzle to solve – and I’ve always liked a challenge.
Finally, the high school curriculum was more interesting to me. When I looked ahead to the next 30 years of my life, I knew I could re-read The Crucible each year and still have plenty to say about the text while one pass through Rikki Tikki Tavi was enough for me.
Good luck with your placement and program, Connor! You’ll be tired, for sure, but it’ll be a good tired.
Okay, everyone, it’s your turn. What led you to choose middle school or high school? How did you know where you belonged? Connor (and probably every other soon-to-be-teacher who’s made it to the end of this blog post) wants to hear your thoughts!
Summer on, everyone.