Everyone remembers middle school and high school. It’s a roller coaster of hormones and trying to fit in. But aside from the crazy drama, it’s also a critical period in academic and intellectual development.
Which means you probably have vivid memories of your teachers from that time of your life. And if you’re looking at our lists of Secondary Education degrees, that means you might be interested in being on the other side of those memories—being the teacher who makes such a critical impact on young people year after year.
Most middle and high school teachers can report getting similar responses whenever they tell people what they do. Something along the lines of: “Wow, you’re brave,” or “I could never do that.”
Or in the words of a writer over at We Are Teachers:
Go to a party and tell somebody you teach third grade and they smile and coo at you. Tell them you teach seventh grade and they have one of two responses. 1.) “Oh, wow, you must be a saint!” or 2.) take several steps back, shaking their heads, before running away and leaving all the hors d’oeuvres for you. That’s right, Teacher. Have some more spinach dip, you magnificent badass.
So are you up for the challenge? You don’t have to know right now, especially if you’re still just thinking about whether to study Secondary Education. But nevertheless, in order to help you think through it, let’s go through some of what the job takes, and what might be attractive about it for you.
First-off, teenage students care more about relationships than just about anything else. This means that they are constantly gauging their peers’ opinions in order to figure out how they should act.
Jennifer Gonzalez from Cult of Pedagogy discusses this phenomenon:
See if you can make this quality work for you: Find the most confident kids in class, the ones everyone looks up to, and try to get them to take on a new project or help you lead the charge toward some endeavor you want everyone else on board for. If Josie the cool girl says she likes Shakespeare, others are more likely to follow. Also, know that socializing is a huge motivator for middle school kids. If you promise five minutes of talking time at the end of class in exchange for hard work the rest of the hour, you’re likely to get full cooperation.
So if you think you can subtly intervene in teenagers’ lives, to use their interests to help them learn, then Secondary Education might be right for you. And it’s not just relationships with each other that are important for students in middle and high school. Gonzalez also notes that in this stage of their lives, teenagers are pulling away from their parents. And yet, they need adult influence and advice even more than before as they navigate the tricky paths of adolescence. So teachers have the unique opportunity to be mentors and helpers to kids who often feel lost and confused but are unlikely to turn to their parents for help.
Ben Johnson, writing at Edutopia, says something very similar to Gonzalez:
I have found that middle school students thrive on relationships and respond well to praise. Having fun, letting your hair down, sharing personal (relevant) experiences with them builds those relationships.
We’ve really only begun to scratch the surface of teaching middle and high school students. No doubt, it’s more complicated and rewarding and heartbreaking and inspiring than any blog post or webpage could ever convey. Nevertheless, hopefully someday we’ll read your article about how to succeed teaching Secondary Education!