Saturday, September 12, 2015

I'm Not in Kansas Anymore

I just finished my first week as a middle school teacher. Yes, that's right...middle school. After more than 20 years as an elementary teacher (a generalist, a jack-of-all-trades), I finally made the move to secondary. What a difference.

One of my former administrators once said, "An elementary teacher loves her students, while a secondary teacher loves her subject." There is much truth in that statement. Over the past few years, I've found myself more and more drawn to one subject in particular...English.

Ok, it's more like I live and breathe reading, writing and speaking. I read book after book. I have added hundreds of books to my classroom library over the past few months. Most of my Twitter chats and Voxer conversations involve English-related topics. Even my edu-heroes (Men(tors) on Sticks post and Multiple Personalities) are teachers of reading, writing and/or speaking.

My career move to teaching middle school English was exactly right for me.

If that's true, then why does it feel so strange? Why have I spent so much time pondering how to do what I've been doing for the past few years? Why have I second-guessed myself? Why have I felt defeated because I haven't connected with every student and we aren't as "far" as we were the last few years?

I'm not in Kansas (elementary) anymore. It took a wise secondary English teacher (Erik, who is also my instructional coach) to help me realize that.

Thursday morning, Erik wandered in my room during my prep to chat since my door was open. We started talking, and I shared my frustrations with not knowing all my students' names and not having time to get to know their reading preferences. I'm used to having a few full days with my classes (two instead of my current four..and much smaller class sizes) to build our classroom community, engage in writing activities to express & reflect, and share hopes and dreams for the year.

Instead, every day there have been changes to my class lists. Students added, students transferred to other sections due to scheduling. So many faces I can't seem to remember without looking at their name tags. Minutes shaved off each class due to kids getting used to passing time and me getting used to taking attendance every hour. Locker issues and iPad distribution issues. Class sizes that range from 20 (my third hour) to 39 in my sixth hour.

Don't get me wrong. I absolutely love this age and I love my students. They are wide-eyed and excited to be in middle school. They are still young and adorable. They love my humor and work best when we keep busy (which we have). They love listening to my stories and listening to me read picture books. They love having a choice of where to sit and having opportunities to talk and stand up when needed.

Some of my best middle school moments have involved giving my students the freedom they didn't have last year, but desperately needed. The freedom to talk in the halls (since they are such social creatures), the freedom to move freely around the school between classes, and the freedom to walk to lunch on their own. On the first day, when I opened the door and said, "Have a great lunch," a few students looked at me and couldn't believe I wasn't walking them to the cafeteria. No more taking lunch count in the morning. No more bringing down the cold lunch bucket. No more waiting for bus numbers to be called at the end of the day. And, drum roll more recess (which in MN meant many indoor recess days)!

After talking with Erik on Thursday, I realized that although I knew my way around Kansas (elementary) and knew how to teach in Kansas, I would eventually learn how to navigate my way through this new place, too. He asked me to think about the rapport I built with my one class in the first week (having the entire day) and how it might take four times as long with four classes (and only 50 minutes each day). I was trying to be the same elementary teacher with a middle school schedule and increased student number. He predicted I'd drive myself crazy if I expected to do the same and be the same as before. What great advice.

I know I'll get to know all of my students. Not just their names, but their interests, their reading preferences and their writing styles. We'll become comfortable speaking and sharing with each other. We'll enjoy many books, take risks and make mistakes. We'll connect with other classrooms and share our voices on social media.

We aren't there yet. But I'm giving myself a break. Teaching middle school means it will take more time to develop my community of readers, writers and speakers.

I'm not in Kansas anymore. However, I sure like where my house landed.


  1. Great Post, Sandy! Love it! The rapport will build. Teaching middle school is awesome.

  2. It takes a middle schooler at heart to love teaching middle school - I know our staff is just as quirky as the kids! In order to learn my students' names, I pass around my iPad and ask them to take selfies the first day (we have only 15 min w/each class that day), and then I put them in an app called "Pick Me" and study the app and them the next day while they're doing the scavenger hunt. I LOVE MIDDLE SCHOOL. I hope you get to love it just as much!

  3. I'm glad you work Erik and that he arrived just when you needed him. When we worked together, your elementary experiences inspired me to attempt new things--with modifications--at the secondary level. I know you will continue to try new things and to inspire me!!! MGMS is lucky to have you.

  4. Does having the name Erik automatically make you a great guy? I'd sure like to think so. Pluses and minuses for sure. But having you for a teacher is a guaranteed plus for your students.

  5. Sandy, I can so relate to this post. I have many of the same feelings as I too moved from Kansas (elementary) to Middle School. I moved from 5th to 7th. I'm so excited to just be teaching reading, but I too have faced many of the same challenges as you. I know we can do this!! Have an amazing year!!