Today I was an 8th grade reading/language arts teacher at Edison Middle School. Even before I accepted this assignment, I began to tremble in fear. You see, I have a not-so-secret fear of teaching anyone in 8th grade or beyond, at least in the public school system. (After high school, the fear disappears.) I am not sure what all has contributed to this fear, although I am positive that at least part of it is the fact that most 8th graders are taller than me–at least the boys are. It is also probably due to the fact that 13-14-year-olds have finally realised the great secret to being a student in a class: the teacher only has as much power and authority as the class wants to give him or her.
And so it was that I hesitantly accepted the assignment to teach 8th graders. These are students who were in 5th grade when I began student teaching. But I don’t know any of the students at Edison in 8th grade, except for a couple of them who I know through church. Yet I have braved far worse things that 8th graders. I have braved, and survived, the dreaded kindergarten classroom–the room where kids cry and suck their thumbs and try to hug the teacher. So I figured it was time to face my fear.
I am glad that I did! The 8th graders I taught were witty, intelligent, fun young men and young women. They were earnest in their questions, honest about their opinions, and open to listening to what I had to share. Many of the class periods were working on plot maps (a concept that I find just barely on this side of inane) and reading short stories by the great American author Edgar Alan Poe. As soon as I realised this, I knew I could win these teenagers in a heartbeat. All it took was a reference to Mr. Poe’s ignoble death from alcoholism or drug overdose. A quick description of the author lying in the gutter, wearing someone else’s clothing, and incoherently yelling out, “Reynolds! Reynolds!” and I had them. It was smooth sailing after that. I was able to teach them about the concept of the serial novella, and helped them draw connections to serial stories today, such as “Harry Potter” and the “39 Clues” series. And, hey, I was even able to make it through a description of the plot map, and why it does serve some use in understanding the outline of a story.
So, while I am still terrified of teaching high schoolers, I am no longer afraid of teaching 8th graders. None of them bite, none of them tried to tie me to a chair and throw desks out the ridiculously large windows that Edison classrooms have, and none of them set the room on fire. I look forward to going back and seeing these kids again!