Teaching Middle School, Week 9: The REAL Challenges



The horse farm across from our school (later in the spring last year)

Because I’m a little bit superstitious, I’m afraid to say that I think . . .  perhaps . . .  that I might have turned the corner on my exhaustion.

So I’ll just allude to the fact that I made it through my first full five-day week in about a month, that I was merely very tired on Friday and not absolutely exhausted, that I didn’t have to drag myself through every minute of each day.

Maybe, just maybe, I’m turning the corner.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m still having to go to bed super early – if I’m not in bed by eight o’clock, I start the next day tired. I’m still having to conserve energy and can put hardly any activity other than teaching on my plate.

And now I’m concerned about this spring allergy season. Every allergy season makes me more tired, and this spring has been much too warm much too soon, so it looks as if everything is budding out and starting to bloom at the same time . . .  when usually it’s staggered so that I don’t react to everything at once.

But even with the above considered, I find myself feeling hopeful about the coming week.

My students have started to react more positively to me. They are not as hard to settle down because I’ve figured out some consequences that matter to them (knock on wood –  perhaps I should just allude to their better behavior, too!).

But because they are reacting to me more positively, that means more heartache for me.

You see, they’re starting to share more about themselves.

I teach in a school in which almost 90 percent of our students are on free or reduced lunch. Actually, I feel sure it’s more than 90 percent, but not everyone completes and returns the paperwork.

Students in high-poverty schools have lots of challenges.

So far, the stories I’ve heard mention drugs and parents in jail and in prison. They mention foster homes and group homes. They mention missing parents and missing siblings. They mention caretakers who may not even be related to the kid.

Society’s ills have fallen squarely on the shoulders of these children, these 11 and 12 and 13 and 14 year olds.

It’s easy for me to despair when I think about their lives.

But also, I find hope.

Because in these kids I see potential. Often almost untapped potential.

Potential to live lives very different from that of their childhoods. Potential to make different, better choices that will allow for more opportunity. Potential to avoid the pitfalls that have sucked away too many of their loved ones.

That’s the main reason I’m teaching at a high-poverty middle school now.

I think this is the age when kids decide whether they’re going to make it – or not.

And I want to see firsthand what the challenges are – and what the opportunities are.

When I taught high school, I thought that by ninth grade kids had pretty much chosen a path. Either to persevere and overcome or give up and drop out as soon as they hit age 16.

But in middle school, there is still some hope  – at least in most of my students.

However, for more of these students to have a chance to make it, we in the schools need help. 

We need help from our communities.

As I wrote in my blog post this fall, the one in which I wrote from the eyes of a substitute teacher, teachers and school staffs need help. We have too many needy students who have too many problems – some of them really big problems.

We need caring adults from our communities to become involved, to come to our schools and volunteer, to talk with our kids and care about them as individuals.

Just one caring adult can make all the difference in a child’s life.

Just one.

It could be a teacher. It often is a teacher.

But there are so few of us teachers and so many students – and so many needs among them.

There’s no way we can meet them all.

But there is a way to meet all of those needs if more people in a community help out.

And I don’t mean just money. Money can help, but what we need more is love.

We need people who will love these kids.

We need people who will come to our schools and get to know kids as young people – to see them as people with hopes and dreams and fears. People just like you and me.

Someone has taught each successful adult how adults should act. Someone in his or her life showed him or her how successful adults act, what decisions they make, how they negotiate life.

These kids need that. They often don’t get it from their caretakers – or, as you might remember from when you were a kid, you don’t really want to listen to your caretakers.

But another adult, one outside your household . . . . well, that person might be worth listening to.

That person might be the one who shows you a whole new way of living life, a way that helps you to work toward your goals, to live a fruitful life, to live a life that ultimately contributes to our whole society.

We teachers and school staffs can’t make that difference by ourselves.

We need help!

If you’re a community member who wants to help but who doesn’t know how, leave me a comment (here – or on Facebook if you’re a Facebook friend). I’ll likely have suggestions. And if I don’t, I’ll try to figure something out.

Because I see how much we as a community – as a society – lose when we lose some of these kids. We all miss out on a productive member – a kind, caring member – of society.

With each kid we lose, we all are hurt.

There’s no time like now to start turning that tide.

That undercurrent of heartache in my students is no doubt part of what exhausts me.

I can feel their pain.

Won’t you help me, help us teachers and staff, to turn the tide?

We need you.

We exhausted teachers need you.

And the kids, well, they need you most of all.


Here one of my fabulous speakers engages my students as he talks about his career








One thought on “Teaching Middle School, Week 9: The REAL Challenges

  1. Pingback: Teaching Middle School, Weeks 10 & 11: Sadness & Grace | eddies and currents

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