I teach fifth grade and, in all sincerity, I would not move up a year for anything less than a 30% pay hike. It might possibly take 50%. I know this because starting right about now, I get a little taste of what my middle school colleagues deal with all day every day for each of their 180 days. How do they do it? More importantly, why?
It comes with the first run of warm weather and the release of the middle school assignments. Together, this lethal brew poisons my precious fifth graders with the terrible knowledge that the year is coming to an end and when fall arrives they will be Middle Schoolers. Then, knowing a little of the adolescent awfulness expected of them, they decide to start warming up on their ol’ elementary school teachers.
Right about now, formerly good little boys and girls across the land are trying out cuss words and defiance like new toys on Christmas. I listen as voices that used to sing affection now carry building tones of disrespect. I watch as they roll the foulness around in their minds and mouths for a moment after it comes spewing out, like some sort of attitude aficionados. Some of them don’t like the taste, fortunately. P---, just yesterday, issued a “Whatever.” then promptly gasped at himself, leading the class to laugh. I was not so amused and still sat the child in detention.
When the first one turns, I’m usually convinced it’s me. I tell myself I’ve been lax, I’ve relented on too many consequences or I’ve permitted too much mouthing off by a disruptive kid and now others are going to try it out. But then, after a few phone calls home are met with “My god, I know! They’re being awful here too!” I realize it’s just the start of the season.
Generally, the students hit hardest by the attitude pandemic are the high flyers who are surrounded by an already rude group of friends. These are not the "bad" kids, I've settled with them long ago, the ones who change now are some of those I consider my top students. It’s as though they are sitting at home one day and realize: I've learned what I need; my teacher is going to pass me; my parents will love me no matter what; why not ingratiate myself to my friends by acting the fool? C--- and I have been battling for two weeks now before a sit-down with his mother helped me appreciate that this is precisely what is going on.
Don’t get me wrong, ---we’re still working had, especially as there’s still a week before The Tests. It’s just become more difficult. Painfully difficult, in fact, as I find myself fencing with some kids I formerly felt like I shared a great deal of respect. I know that middle school teachers, TMAO surely does, know how to parry with their mouthy students, how not to take it personally, and when to shut the little bastards down, but I don’t. I realize this is a big weakness, and perhaps, if some pecuniary desire or professional ambition pushes me into the middle reaches, I could learn to deal with these issues. For now, I just want to move ‘em on.
Achievement? Check. Attitude? Check. Middle school here you come.
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