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They're Middle Schoolers! Kimberly Johnson, a recent graduate of the University of North Dakota, is a first-year English teacher at Valley Middle School in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Kimberly and and her mentor, Laurie Stenehjem, share their journal entries with Education World readers in alternating weeks. For the first -- and last -- time this year, they appear on Ed World together.

Teaching -- is there any other job in the world that can be so wonderful and rewarding one day and so stressful and exhausting the next? Fortunately, I have a good support system. I wonder what happens to those teachers who don't?

As I reflect on the year so far, I realize that this age group is beginning to grow on me. At least, the number of times Laurie has had to say "They're middle schoolers!" has waned in the last few weeks.

Making the adjustment from high school English teacher to middle school teacher has been difficult and fatiguing. I expend a great deal of energy chasing after my students to turn in their work. High school teachers don't usually shoulder that kind of responsibility. I also spend a lot of time helping my students organize themselves. If students aren't organized by high school, they'll find themselves floundering.

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I've struggled against feeling like a failure as a teacher because I haven't covered as much material as quickly as I had originally planned. I'm beginning to realize that success for a middle school teacher is based not on how much grammar is taught but on how well the kids adjust to being good students with strong work ethics and organizational and study skills. If students also leave middle school with a few reading comprehension strategies or knowing a couple parts of speech, then that is often an extra perk!

Being a middle school teacher doesn't mean teaching Shakespeare or thesis statements. It means teaching children maturity. That's a huge responsibility; everything I say or do can make a difference in the type of adults they become.

Laurie's presence in my first year's experience has been invaluable. She's full of strategies, solutions, and ideas -- and she has the most caring demeanor. She truly appreciates middle school students. I watch her interactions with them and see how warm and motherly she is.

Laurie also has been a great role model for me as I struggle to find my "teacher self." She cares for her resident teachers, as demonstrated by her phone call last Friday night to see how my dog was doing after surgery. She has made it a point to know what is important to each of us, which tells me she cares about us as human beings, not just as teachers. In much the same way, when teachers begin to see their students as human beings, the job becomes more than teaching lesson plans and decorating bulletin boards.

Is there any other job in the world as wonderful and rewarding?


Click here for biographical information and previous entries.

Article by Kimberly Johnson
Education World®
Copyright © 2001 Education World

12/13/2001