Teaching Middle School in May: Survival of the Craziest

Using dad jokes, puns, movie days and other springtime endeavors to get to the end

My desk at my old job

My inbox is flooded with marked posts to read about teaching vocabulary ideas, active engagement, mind brain education material, etc. And I am not reading any one of those, nor am I posting anything particularly useful, because I am a hot mess. I am a teacher-in-spring tired and I’m in full on survival mode. I hate to think that my life has to be all about doing what I can do to trudge from one day to the next, so here’s my advice to try to make the most out of the last few weeks of a school year.

Step 1: Don’t Completely Give Up

First, I want to clarify that I do give a shit. Right now my 7th graders are finishing up A Wrinkle in Time. The end of the novel assessment is approaching and here’s where tired teacher comes in. One option is to hit copy on the test from the booklet that I inherited from the teacher who retired. The copyright date is 1997. I was in high school then. The other option I was thinking about having them do is to create a poster that looks like an Instagram page or story. Each post would have to include something about each of the major components we’ve gone over this year: plot, conflict, characterization, setting, suspense and theme. This is all in my head and I need to write up the plan, the rubric, make an example. Survival mode teacher says fuck it, copy the test. Good teacher knows the project will better allow them to demonstrate what they already know. Happy compromise? Create assignment while they take the test and then have them watch the movie while you grade. I will enjoy seeing what they have gotten out of the novel and the major concepts for the year. Parents love test grades.

Step 2: Laugh

Spring is rough. This spring I am having bad insomnia. So, I’m pulling out a lot of humor at the end to help get us all through. By this time in the year, I’ve developed a good enough relationship with my students to be able to be a touch sarcastic, and I allow them the slightest bit of sarcasm themselves. My dad jokes become intolerable at times. But in May, as long as I’m laughing, I don’t care if there’s no one laughing along with me.

Step 3: Move

Right now most of my middle school students have the stamina to make it through about 20 to 30 minutes of work before they start to lose it. I admit, I get bored after that amount of time as well. Instead of reaching for my phone to see what the dumbass Real Housewives of [my town] are doing with their lives (spin class! weight loss! my adorable child! self care selfie!) I am going to opt for getting my crew up and moving. I have the luxury of working at an independent school. I can simply say “ok guys, we are going outside” and we get to go outside. No special permission required. So here are a list of English-y things I have them do when we go outside. First is sprint spelling. They have to sprint one at a time and write one letter at a time as a team to complete the word. Then, to win another point, they have to tell me which novel that word came from, and how they know that. For example, “primordial” is one of their words from The Call of the Wild which we read in October. They know that it is from that novel because the whole point was how Buck went from a domesticated dog to a primordial beast. I’ve also done freeze tag where to tag someone back in they have to name a book title, author’s name or character’s name to get back in. That one needs some work.

Step 4: Go with the flow

Stop trying to make fetch work. Whatever isn’t working, abandon and abort as soon as possible. Fight only the good fights that you have a shot at winning. The kid who has been a dick all year despite repeated phone calls home, detentions, meetings with parents, loss of privileges, etc. If he’s still a dick in your class in May, he ain’t changing his stripes for the last few weeks. Don’t come up with a new plan to try to get little Johnny to change his pattern of behavior because more likely than not whatever you come up with will be more work fro you than him.

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