Posted in Teaching

3 Useful Things I Learned While Teaching Middle School

I had another teaching dream recently. I was back at my old school. A new teacher (I think his name was Kevin—he looked like a Kevin) asked me if I was new too. I told him no, that I had worked there from the day it opened until a couple of years ago. Then I left, and now I’m back. I said, “And I’ll be regretting it in 5… 4… 3…” (Yes, my dream self actually said this, while demonstrating the countdown on my fingers. The sad truth is that I’m just as dorky in my dreams as in real life.)

For a while, the dream continued down a fairly realistic path. He asked what I’d been doing while I wasn’t teaching. I told him about my writing and then gave him some advice about who to avoid in the hallways. After that, things got dream-weird. In this case, that meant teachers actually lived at school. We slept in sleeping bags in the common area between the main hallways. Coffee was something that had to be stirred like hot chocolate and was consumed lukewarm from tall pint glasses. (You know, dream-weird.)

Soon my brain woke up enough to disregard the sleeping bags, Kevin, and the whole idea of going back to work. Instead, I started trying to think of the most useful things I learned during my teaching career.

After ruling out unlimited patience, the ability to smile while being talked down to by a parent, and a high tolerance for Axe Body Spray, I came up with the following three things, all of which could also be helpful to people in other professions.

1. How to Remove Permanent Marker From a Dry Erase Board

In this video, my lovely assistant and I will demonstrate how to save a dry erase board from a Sharpie attack. Really. It works and it’s unbelievably easy.

2. How to Determine Whether or Not to Eat Food Given to You by a Student

It’s Valentine’s Day. Or your birthday. Or the last day of Teacher Appreciation Week. Little Ralphie walks up to you with a big grin on his face. He says, “This is for you,” and places a slightly melted chocolate chip cookie on your desk. WHAT DO YOU DO? This flow chart will help you figure out which edible gifts are safe and which ones should be discarded while wearing rubber gloves.

Assessing Edible Gifts Flow Chart

(For the record, I did teach a student who gave me bacon. I ate it. It was delicious.)

3. How to Teach Your Brain to Multitask When You’re Bored, Trapped, Going Crazy, or All of the Above

* Autopilot:

Teaching is a repetitive job. When you teach five classes a day, you say the same things over and over and over. By the fourth or fifth time, you can even anticipate the questions that will be asked, the jokes that will be made, and the clarifications that will be required. This is a good time to put your brain on autopilot and get some stuff done. I often chose to plan lessons in my head or make mental lists. However, you must be careful not to zone out completely. Once, when I was simultaneously reading The Outsiders to my class and making a grocery list in my head, one student interrupted me to ask, “Did you just say chicken?” I snapped back to attention and realized that twenty seventh graders were staring at me strangely. I looked down at the page and saw that the word I’d meant to say was cheerleader. Not chicken. Oops.

* Visualization:

When you’re stuck in a boring professional development seminar with no end in sight, I recommend using visualization to transport yourself out of that stuffy conference room and into a much more pleasurable locale, like the beach on a tropical island. Turn the steady drone of the air conditioner into a refreshing sea breeze. Picture the shuffling of papers as the rhythmic sound of waves. Convert the jingle of keys on lanyards and the dings of the PowerPoint presentation into insects and alter any annoying voices into the squawks of birds. Pretend the fluorescent lights are sun rays warming your face. Since actually closing your eyes is a bad idea, stare at the person speaking, but imagine them as a tour guide who only speaks in a language you don’t understand. Feel the stress slip away…

* Survival Mode:

Of course, the absolute worst scenario in which to place a brain is in the head of a teacher “actively monitoring” standardized testing. Nothing compares to that level of mind-numbing boredom and cognitive uselessness. But you have to try something. Otherwise, you spend six hours a day, four days in a row, contemplating the life choices that have brought you to this moment, and that’s not a good idea. For some suggestions on how to survive standardized testing, check out my tips in this post from last year—Brain on Lockdown: Why Standardized Testing Is As Hard On Teachers As It Is On Students. Coincidentally, that post also begins with a teacher stress dream. Apparently they never go away.

 *          *          *

To all my friends still in the classroom… hang in there!
You can do it! You’re in the home stretch! Summer’s just around the corner!
(Call me if you need a drink.)

Author:

Carie Juettner is a teacher and writer in Austin, Texas. Her poems and short stories have appeared in publications such as Daily Science Fiction, Nature Futures, The Texas Poetry Calendar, and HelloHorror. She is currently working on a novel for the middle grade audience. Well, CURRENTLY she is drinking a cup of coffee and petting a dog, but she promises to get back to the novel in just a few minutes.

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