I’m a middle school substitute teacher. It is one of my identities I wear with pride. I’ve lovingly been “Mrs. Seefeldt” for over 25 years now. Yes—over 25 years as a substitute teacher. I just love handing out thick worksheet packets to students, the most-often lesson of choice left by teachers. Somehow I have become quite the good physical education teacher. I do most of my subbing in the gym where I can actually teach. This is such an ironic flip from my own awkward and clutzy memories of gym class where I did all I could do to hide.
Other than the years my own kids were in high school I’ve done all my years of subbing in middle school. This is my favorite age. Not that I want to ever live through that age for me again but loving on this age and ministering to this age is what I was created for. I wish so often that “my own kids” were that age again—but I don’t wish for them to be that age again. Aren’t they the cutest ever?
Everyone, I want you to love on all the middle school teachers you know. They are in a hard job that is too often thankless.
It is in middle school where so much of our identity is formed. It is in those years that our physical development (which includes all the brain development that happens) defines us the most. Middle school offers these growing teens the chance to see and compare with others who are also growing and defining themselves.
Middle school offers opportunities for the developing brains to be “blown open” by unlimited possibilities. It is in middle school when one is exposed to sciences and robotics and foreign languages and literature and creative writing assignments. It is in middle school when one can start believing that he or she was created for a specific purpose.
It is in middle school when a student of a single mother who has lived in poverty, not only gets a good breakfast and lunch but also comes to understand that his future can be different. That his future can contain education and different life choices to not end up like his mom and all her relatives.
This mind-opening stuff happens meanwhile teachers need to meet the education mandates.
It is in middle school that first generation immigrants can learn that being 12 in America is different than being 12 in El Salvador. They learn this because they get to be immersed into it while supported by their own ESOL teachers.
This new identity stuff happens meanwhile teachers need to teach algebraic formulas.
It is in middle school where new friendships are formed. Friendships where more secrets are trusted to each other because both friends realize they are trying to figure out what growing up is. It can be easier to figure this stuff out together. Until a secret is betrayed and then the pain of betrayal and rejection is felt deeply for the first time. It is felt for the first time at this age because the brain is now ready to process the neurons of this deep pain. Because it is the first time, the teen can’t believe how hard it hurts and is blindsided with how to manage through it. So he or she often manages through it badly forming permanent memories, maybe even scars, of this pain.
Teachers notice this pain and try to find ways to help meanwhile needing to teach the bicameral legislative system.
It is in middle school where going to PE means dressing out. Dressing out means changing clothes in front of a classroom (often oversized!) of strangers and friends. This is the first time the horrible practice of body comparison starts. This is the first time it truly matters if your underwear is “cool.” This is the first time you realize that you can’t even trust your own body through this wild stage of development.
Teachers provide safety in such vulnerable times meanwhile needing to teach “family life education.” Its awkward added to awkward.
It is in the middle school years that the first root of shame digs in deep. The shame that develops during these tender years way too often defines how we grow into adults. You know this to be true because it is true for you too. I have my own shaming memories to share of being in the locker room for a PE class. Or so many others. Thankfully the healing love of Jesus started healing me at 15 and I’ve grown into someone who doesn’t even resemble that 12-year old.
Too many adults still resemble the 12-year old that they were. Shame starts in middle school.
In middle school you have teachers. Teachers who care. I know there are some bad eggs in the giant school system. But for the most part, we have good teachers who care. We really do. And these teachers are rarely thanked.
Think about your own memories which you share of these years. Nearly all of them are of some escapade you pulled off at a teacher’s expense. The memories made are of those times when you felt your identity—and an affirmation of that identity—which too often came at a teacher’s expense. Yet teachers continue to meet the education mandates and provide affirmation moments knowing that they will be the butt of jokes when these same teens are adults.
God bless the middle school teachers. This is why I’m a substitute teacher. For a day I get to bless them recognizing what they do. May they be encouraged for yet one more day so they can stay in their difficult and underpaid profession. I’ve seen too many good teachers leave. Some to retirement. God bless them with this gift of retirement years! The ones who leave early often do not leave because of the students. It is because of the parents. I know this to be true. If you are a parent, please doubly bless the middle school teachers.
How can you bless the middle school teachers? They don’t really need another bottle of hand sanitizer from Bath & Body Works (though I do know they appreciate the $5 coffee gift cards). They need verbal recognition, written recognition, and prayers. Lots and lots of prayer. Let them know by your words and your written words that you recognize all that they do—which is beyond the education mandates—and are praying for them. All the time. You cannot thank one of these teachers enough.