It wasn’t until the end of the day on Monday, when I came home exhausted, that I realized, this isn’t the breezy “syllabus week” that I had in my head from university days. For teachers, syllabus week is essential. Being a middle school teacher is similar to what I’d imagine being a zookeeper is like. In order to feed the monkeys, you have to establish dominance in the cage as the leader and order-keeper. Syllabus week is all about meeting your new monkeys and getting a feel for each individual class. 28 teaching hours, seeing 10 7th grade classes twice a week, is a lot to control. If you don’t assert yourself in this first week, (and the next two after) you are pretty much screwed for the rest of the semester.
Last year, when I was brand new to middle school, this was my biggest mistake. Instead of taking action right away and immediately attending to anything that was potentially a threat to my authority, I let it go in hopes that the problem would correct itself or give them a chance to show me they could change. I should have known, no second chances for middle school kids, it doesn’t work (99% of the time).
This year, luckily enough, I only have 7th and 8th grade, no 9th or 10th. So my range is a lot smaller and should be easier to manage. Maturity level wise, I am going to miss the 9th and 10th graders. Teaching 7th grade is coveted. The 7th graders are brand new to the school, they all came from different elementary schools and do not know each other or any teachers or what it is like to be in junior high. They are fresh and impressionable. For most classes, because they are in unfamiliar territory, they are angels, at least for the first few weeks. That is where the importance of establishing yourself comes in. If they behave properly and you let them relax they will relax too much, and you will spoil a perfect class for the rest of Junior High. If you keep them in constant fear even though they are good, they will stay good. If you have a class that tries to push their limits right away, of which I have a few, is where it gets tricky. I made the mistake last year and pushed back too hard, turning the students from rebellious to vengeful. The last thing you want is a room full of vengeful 12-year-olds against you. So, my challenge this year is to learn how to rein them in without making them hate me to the point where it is malicious. They can hate me all they want as long as they get the work done. Like Tay-Tay says “The haters gonna hate”.
Since I only have 7th and 8th grade, I have had a few of my 8th grade classes last semester as 7th grade. And what a difference one summer of puberty can make. They are too comfortable with each other and with their environment, they seem to think that since they already know me as a teacher they know what is coming and can slack off.
Its like returning to your zoo keeping duties after a vacation and finding that one of your tame clans had suddenly returned to wild during your absence and starts flinging shit at you as soon as you walk in the door. Now you have to pick up the shit and decide if you are going to throw it back or not. No one is going to win a shit flinging contest against monkeys. It’s just not possible. So this year I am going to focus on being a better teacher, making classes more interesting, making listening interactive, and giving my students some kind of motivation to learn English, so that no shit will be thrown.