Why I teach “Middle Level”

Teaching Middle Level art education was never in the plans. I always pictured myself as a high school level art teacher and now, I think about it and realize that the idea of teaching high school isn‟t in the picture anymore. I can‟t imagine teaching any level besides Middle simply because I love every-thing about it. I graduated from University of Northern Iowa and spent 10 weeks student teaching abroad in Sydney, Australia with a K-12 environment that unfortunately closed unexpectedly during my time there. I returned to West Des Moines, Iowa to finish my student teaching in an elementary school because I felt that was where I needed the most work as an educator. Either way, I finished my student teaching with the full intention of getting a 9-12 position and second choice would be elementary. After my December graduation, I was contacted by colleagues in eastern Iowa about a long term substitute position for the Spring in a Grade 7-8 school. Not about to push my luck by waiting out something else, I jumped on the opportunity and was accepted for the job. This changed everything. I fell in love with the age group, the versatility of the curriculum, the spontaneous nature of the students…everything changed and from the moment I realized this, my job search primarily focused on Middle Level positions available in the area. I was heartbroken to leave my new little family but had to return the classroom to the original (wonderful) teacher. This provided me with a great set of references, new set of colleagues, and a new confirmation that I was in a career that was meant for me.

Surprisingly, the first job I was offered after my long-term position was in fact Grades 9-12 in a small town of Western Iowa. I had done my re-search about all the schools I was applying to and still hadn’t heard from the one district in which I simply wanted an interview. Maybe I was pushing my luck, but I turned down the first job offer (surprising my own self to an extent) and waited to hear from the Middle School in Webster City. As if they planned it, they called about 2 hours after I passed up my first opportunity, set up an interview and after a ½ day interview, I left feeling accomplished and confident they‟d at least consider me. I anticipated a week or so before I would hear any-thing due to other interviews but I was surprised the next morning when I received a phone call offering me the job of my dreams. It wasn’t in a big city, it wasn’t the highest paying in the state (who goes into teaching for the money anyway) but it was in a supportive, involved, and exciting district! And it was Grades 5-8! Exactly what I wanted.

In the two years I‟ve taught at Webster City I‟ve learned a lot about myself and reaffirmed many of the reasons I think Middle Level is where I need to be. There is just something about Middle Level that truly stands out from the rest. I suppose my feelings of that are biased but just like the kids are finding their own personality, I think they are also finding their own creativity. In elementary school, a lot of instruction revolves around “what art is” as far as materials, history, and creating. Sometimes the creativity is limited because they‟re still learning the basics. In high school, a lot of instruction revolves more around “what can you do with it” as far as making a statement, expressing yourself, and perfecting mediums. Creativity blooms but students tend to lose sight of all the options and concentrate on only one or two. There is also more pressure on grades and individual talent. At the Middle Level, though, it‟s a hybrid of all this and more. The element of excitement is still very present no matter what projects you introduce because for the most part, the students are experiencing the concepts of that project for the first time. You can introduce a material while you introduce a technique while you push their creativity. You can overlap curriculum, cross curriculum…students learn concepts, techniques and I spend time letting them make their own decisions. Even though towards the end of the 8th grade, just before high school, students are starting to figure out what they appreciate in art, or sometimes don‟t appreciate; they‟re still generally willing to explore the possibilities. This innocent, less hesitant aspect of Middle level students that we so often see lends it‟s hand in the art room. It‟s like the calm before the storm; we get to see students grasp their creativity, combine it with their personality and try something entirely new. Yeah, there is a lot more to develop but for a lot of our students, the first connection between creating something and making it their personal work lies in Middle Level. I can‟t imagine doing anything besides teaching and I can‟t imagine teaching anything but art…and currently in my life, I can‟t imagine teaching anywhere but at Middle Level.

 As seen in NAEA’s Middle Level Newsletter, October 2012.

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3 responses to “Why I teach “Middle Level”

  1. I am a middle school art teacher as well and I randomly came across your blog and I feel like you pulled all of my love for this age group, and put it into words I’ve been trying to eloquently put together for so long! They are such interesting little beings during this transitional period. Us middle school educators always say we are a special breed. Looking forward to reading everything you have in your blog!

    • I’m glad I could find words for you – I never intended teaching MS but I love the age. They are fascinating – you are correct. And as my parents would say – it takes a special person to educate that crazy age! Welcome to the blog and I hope to see more of you!

  2. Pingback: New Beginnings | Art Class With LMJ·

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