The Worst Class You’ll Ever Dread Teaching

The draft of this post was written last Saturday night. I delayed posting it until I could finish and edit it.

Is it too soon into the reincarnation of the blog to post about something that’s just made me cry? Maybe–yet here I am, six hours before I have to wake up again to begin a 10-hour workday filled with some of my toughest classes. Instead of sleeping, I’m pounding away at the keyboard, telling myself to stop crying, it’s not worth it to consciously add all this stress to my life.

What am I talking about?

Teaching teenagers, of course.

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In a past, not-as-far-away-as-it-feels life, I thought that I could relate well to teens. I was reading hundreds of teen/young adult books a year; of course I knew how teens as they struggle through the most confusing period of their lives. I promised myself that, in my future career as an educator, I would not become like most adults and forget how teenagers feel. I would be the cool, understanding educator whom my teen students liked, respected, and could come to for help.

My YA literature phase lasted between the ages of 14 and 23. So, as I thought about my theoretical future teen students, I was imagining high schoolers. College students, even.

And then I started teaching and realized that, in the education world, “teenaged students” means a whole different group of students entirely.

It means middle schoolers.

I remember parts of my middle school experience. I remember the popular boys in my seventh-grade classes who wouldn’t stop saying mean things about my (lack of) fashion sense (what a loser!), my desire to actually respond to my teachers with the correct answers to questions (teacher’s pet!), and my earnest interest in talking to people I didn’t yet know (you’re SO weird). I remember girls making fun of my underwear in the locker room, because I didn’t know at the time that coolness was measured by how high you could roll your gym shorts, not by how many books you had read at the public library. I remember having “friends” who used me to do their homework for them, yet wouldn’t stand up for me when the older boys they had a crush on told them to throw me over as a friend because I was too uncool.

My 8th grade English class, circa 2002-2003. Fortunately by this time middle school was almost over and so wasn't terrible.

My 8th grade English class, circa 2002-2003. Fortunately by this time middle school was almost over and so wasn’t terrible.

In short, I try to remember as little as possible about middle school.

When you classify a book as “for teens,” you intend for it to be read not only by 18-year-olds, but also by 12-year-olds. The trouble is that 18-year-olds and 12-year-olds are like two completely different species. To group them as one age group is preposterous, and yet the publishing industry continues to do it, with the unintended result that I envisioned making passionate projects with idealistic, world-conscious young adults, and instead I’m trying to get sixteen 13-year-olds to not speak Vietnamese while they practice speaking some English on Sunday mornings.

Since I realized that “teen EFL classes” actually means “a bunch of people from the least favorite period of my life,” I’ve been trying to remember what I was interested in back in that age. Good thing I kept a journal.

20 years' worth of journals-- comes in handy quite often.

20 years’ worth of journals– comes in handy quite often.

Let’s see. I wrote a lot about boys. And LOVING certain friends and family members, and HATING same-said friends and family members a few days later, only to LOVE them again the next week.

Conclusions drawn from this look back into personal history:

God, just give up already, why don’t you, Steph. And pass the wine and aspirin.

It can’t continue on like this. I already have busy, work-filled Saturdays; I cannot afford to stress out on Saturday nights over how I’m failing at teaching English to teens on Sundays. I don’t want to enter my teen classrooms already feeling defeated; I think my students can sense that in me, and it makes them act up. I’d like to not take it personally, but I’m an idealist who throws myself much too fully into my job. Until I’ve exhausted every possibility, plundered every plunderable mind within my reach for ways to manage a teen class, I’m not going to stop beating myself up over this. I know that I should. But I can’t.


 

Have you had any experience teaching middle school students? What are your thoughts about approaching the teaching of this age group?

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One thought on “The Worst Class You’ll Ever Dread Teaching

  1. They are still people though 🙂 Own your role as teacher/leader of the class, respect them, expect respect…actually, I have never taught, am only twenty, but I think that treating them as people and just caring for them and listening to them goes a long way. It sounds like the language aspect makes it more complex too.

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