Teaching Middle School, Week 5 & 5.1: Survival & Recovery


My classroom

I skipped last week’s post because it was Super Bowl Sunday, and I figured no one would be reading blogs. Plus I was looking at a three-day week and thought I’d cover it along with the previous week.

But then it snowed.

Just a little, a dusting – both Monday night and Wednesday in the early morning.

And in the South, any amount of snow means no school.

So instead of a three-day week, I had a one-day week.

Our Winter Break was scheduled for Thursday through tomorrow, and added with the snow days, I’ve been out of school almost a week.

This exhausted new middle school teacher was mighty grateful for the extended break!

What have I done in those days off?

I’ve rested. And napped. And slept late. And napped. And rested. And taken care of some things I didn’t have the energy to deal with during a full week of school.

The Universe has certainly smiled on me this past week!

And I am certainly very grateful!

Because I was definitely in survival mode, trying to get through each tiring day and get enough rest each evening to make it through the next day.

Week 5 was a bit easier because I had speakers talk with my classes on four of the five days. I started with our principal, who has a really interesting story, one not a great deal different from that of many of my students. The kids were very attentive for him, well-behaved, nearly perfect.

That wasn’t the case for my other speakers, though. My students were much less attentive and well-behaved. They were squirmy.

And my 6th grade class that is 75% boys . . . well, I’m pondering whether they get to have any other speakers. They were not well-behaved for my speaker. I’m trying to figure out a strategy so that the kids in the class who are attentive and interested can benefit from having speakers – how not to punish them because the others won’t settle down and listen.

Being able to listen well isn’t a characteristic that lots of people in today’s society have.

It’s not only middle schoolers.

Plenty of adults are poor listeners, too.

So how do I teach this very valuable skill to energetic, squirmy middle school kids?

I’m not sure.

*  * * * * * * * * * *

But back to my title – the survival and recovery parts.

I realized during these past few recovery days that I was just trying to survive my days these past five weeks.

But my core belief is that life is about more than mere survival.

I have to reframe how I look at this new job. How I look at each day.

I want to do more than survive.

I want to thrive.

So I’ve spent time these last few days thinking of the lessons and opportunities inherent in my day-to-day life in my middle school classroom.

What am learning?

I know I’m the teacher, but in this situation I’m just as much a learner as my students are.

And perhaps even more so.

I’m getting to see how much progress I’ve made since I taught high school seven and a half years ago. How I deal with classroom challenges very differently.

How I’m a different person now.

And how I don’t know who I am now!

After my breast cancer journey, I see the world in a very different way. But I’m not sure who is surviving and trying to thrive in this world.

In some ways I’m the “who” I’ve always been.

But in many, many other ways I’m someone entirely new.

I seem no longer to have a “normal.” And sometimes that is disconcerting.

Maybe what I’m feeling now is a lot like what my students are feeling at this point in their lives?

I do feel that our surroundings usually mirror what’s going on in our interior selves. So I must be a middle school kid in some ways.

Awkward, not fitting in anywhere, uncomfortable.

Wondering what my role is now.

Wondering what’s important.

Wondering how to manage this transition time, this time when I’m neither who I was nor who I will be.

So maybe that’s where I need to soften and relax.

Into that discomfort.

But at least I have 57 years of experience – and not 11 or 12 or 13 years of experience, as my students do.

And maybe I should let my students know it’s okay not to know, not to fit, not to belong anywhere.

Because I know now, at 57, that being a misfit allows me to travel between groups, to be a bridge, to be at the edges of several different worlds all at once.

And I know that being uncomfortable with where you are can lead you into exciting new territory.

Maybe that territory can be from elementary school into high school.

The “middle” years.

And that territory can lead someone from a 23-year teaching job into a failed business partnership and through cancer and through another failed business partnership into something unanticipated.

Something challenging – and exhausting.

Something that is forcing growth in unexpected ways.

Something that feels both right – and wrong – at the same time.

I’ll leave today’s post with that . . . .

I feel I’m in the right place and the wrong place – all at once.

So how do I resolve that tension?

It seems there’s only one thing I can do.

And it’s not a “do.”

I can just let it be for now.

And I can just try to be. 

For now.

Because that’s all I have.


And this evening, this “now,” I have a Sunday night with no school tomorrow. A night in which I can relax and take it easy.

A night I can enjoy.

Which I am.



Last year’s more substantial snow. My back yard and sunrise.


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