Middle School Teacher Job Description:
I teach seventh grade and my mission as an english teacher is to instruct students in grammar, spelling, literary elements and writing. I also participate in an after school program - tutoring and homework help. I am also the school coordinator for RIFF; a program where kids get three free books a year.
Why did you become a middle school teacher?
When I was about 12, I used to play school with younger kids. I wanted to be the teacher. I developed an early childhood philosophy of teaching. When they started an educational program at my high school, I did that for two years. You had 20 hours of volunteer in a pre-school or elementary school; you worked as a teacher’s aide. I was very shy when I did the pre-school program, but it was a good motivator to be less shy.
What are the challenges of being a middle school teacher?
Gang problems are not as high as they used to be. But there is an upsurge in violence, mostly in Mong violence. The older kids try to recruit the younger kids into a gang. The Asian gangs, the Mongs, are behaved in school, but after school they might try to go after another school. I haven’t lost any kids, but some of the other teachers have. Some of my kids have lost a brother or sister to violence. I have not had any school fights in my classroom for three years, but hallways still remain an issue.
What types of school fights do you see in hallways?
The girl fights are more common than boy fights. The girls get really nasty. They fight over boys; she said-she said, gossip, who-said-what. It’s like myspace at school. The girl fights outnumber the boy fights 4 to 1.
What other challenges do you face in the classroom?
I am constantly working with kids who are not grade level in reading ability. I have kids reading from 1st grade to 12th grade range. Their reading level affects other areas as well, everything from social studies classes to middle school science fair projects.
We also have a lack of supplies. Teachers have to spend their own money to buy students notebooks, pencils, lined paper... lots of supplies. I buy a lot of my own books. I bought 40 copies of Macbeth, abridged, paperbacks. I buy one title per year. I also have to buy teacher textbooks, teacher guides and workbooks. I have to buy all supplemental teaching materials or make my own.
Do you get any help with purchasing school supplies?
Some parents asked their daughter, who had graduated, which teacher she wanted to help. Her parents wanted to do it as a “thank you.” Her parents gave me a $150 gift card for Target to buy classroom supplies, which really goes far in September. I was able to buy notebooks, pencils, eraser caps, markers, art supplies, everything the school doesn’t provide; getting free school supplies rocks!
Do you have any memorable moments from your teaching career?
I had one girl who was sobbing in class; she was 13-years-old. The Mong culture practices early arranged marriages and her dad came to school that morning to tell her that she was going to marry a 20-year-old man. The Mong culture is polygamist, so not only would she be his wife, but possibly one of many wives. We took her to a social worker who followed up. There are a fairly large number of early marriages for Mong girls, five known in our school.
What other challenges do the kids face?
This is an impoverished school. 55 percent of my kids live below the poverty line. We know because they are signed up for the free and reduced price lunch list which is tied, income-wise, to the national poverty level. They get breakfast and lunch at school.
We also have homeless kids. Our school has 539 kids and 25 are homeless, highest rate in the district. If the homeless kids get settled, in a home, they are allowed to keep coming to our school. There’s a local shelter - Mary’s Place - that works with kids on their homework. This shelter helps make school a part of the daily life of homeless children. We support 72 different languages and 24 different nationalities in this district.
We have a lot of children who are political refugees, or their families are, from Vietnam and Cambodia. The Mongs come from Indonesia. We also have Somalian kids who fled Africa, Liberia.
What do you love about your teaching career?
Everyday is different. You can teach the same lessons, but all the kids respond differently. One of my kids said, “This is the first novel that I’ve finished.” All that potential, you feel hopeful when you’re with them. I’d never do anything else. I married into a family of teachers. My own parents wanted me to be an artist, but they came around.
A lot of my friends have office jobs and they are so bored, but I’ve never had that problem. It really is a calling, and if you weren’t meant to do this, you can’t stick with it. The burnout rate is astonishing, there is a 50 percent burnout rate. If you get past the first five years, you are meant to be a teacher.
Do you have any funny memories from teaching?
I handed some tests back and the kids were supposed to correct them on a separate piece of paper and then staple it to their test and hand it in. One girl accidentally stapled a note, that she had been passing with another girl, to her test and handed that in.
What can you tell us about school teacher salaries?
The English teacher salaries in our area range from $32,000 to $100,000. I am at $50,000. I know a lot of teachers gripe about a low salary range, but I’ve never been poorly paid. To increase their pay rate, teachers can get a doctorate – on top of their masters. Or if you can get certification from the national board, that can help your teacher salary range as that is very prestigious. That will increase teacher salaries more than a doctorate.
Do you have advice on how to become a middle school teacher?
Really make sure that you enjoy it. Get a lot of observation hours through your college program and learn how to write a teaching philosophy. I had to have 80 hours plus student teaching. When you get a job, look for a district with a good mentoring program. A mentor is an older teacher who can observe you and talk to you about classroom management and research planning.
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