How Middle School Teachers Are Like Superheroes

by Allison Slater Tate
Originally Published: 

I can honestly say that sending my oldest child to middle school last fall was one of the more daunting tasks I have encountered as a mother. I know, I know—kids survive sixth grade every day, I’m being dramatic and ridiculous, and I need to get over myself already. But, ridiculous or not, since the day he was born, I was kind of dreading sending him to middle school. I don’t think I speak for myself alone when I say middle school was pretty much a parade of horribles, what with the whole suddenly needing a bra, braces, zit cream, and maxi pads, the cliques and popularity and broken heart nonsense, and the endless insecurity that pretty much defined my life for those three years from grades 6-8.

Even with all that, I was lucky, because I was very much not cool, but also not the least cool. That seemed to limit the extent of my harrowing middle school experiences. However, since becoming a parent, all I have heard about is how now, middle school is basically one big, scary orgy: the bathrooms designated for oral sex, the dances known for their pot busts, the school buses the equivalent of sending your kid to a county men’s prison naked. My own child came home from his first day of middle school and told me that he “now knows the inspiration for Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Welcome to the Jungle.'” Gulp.

The good news is, his impression much improved after that first day, and now that we are at the end of his first year of middle school and it is National Teacher Appreciation Week, I have a few things I would like to say to his sixth grade teachers:

I don’t know you, but I still appreciate you.

This is our first year that I have a child who has eight different teachers each semester, and because of his three younger siblings, I haven’t been able to get involved at the school. It’s the first time I have ever not known my child’s teachers personally; I couldn’t pick a few of them out of a police line-up if I had to. I’m sure this is why most middle and high school teachers get very few individual Teacher Appreciation Week gifts—it’s overwhelming to buy for eight teachers, especially if you don’t know them at all. But I want you to know that although I don’t necessarily know what you look like, I am beholden to you for taking care of my first baby boy every day he is in your classroom. He’s had a better year than I could ever have imagined, and I know it is in large part due to you.

I might not have realized until this year how important you are.

This year, my child was introduced to Shakespeare. He built a manta ray by himself out of felt and pipe cleaners. He began to learn algebra. He researched and gave his first speeches and won his first debates. He built a motor. He learned how to play volleyball (and he loves it). He realized he has a knack and a love for languages. I am not sure that I remembered how much middle school changes the game in terms of learning and moving on to subjects that challenge, enrich, and push students toward the futures of their educations. I do know how important the teacher is who introduces you to Shakespeare, and since he doesn’t hate it, I think you won. My English major heart loves you for it.

I think you are a badass for doing this job.

As a parent of two tweens, I don’t want to imagine having a career that sends me straight into the jaw of the beast—that is, into a classroom surrounded by hordes of their hormonal selves—every day of my working life. Don’t get me wrong; I know the age has its merits, and the kids are interesting character studies, and maybe the job is even fulfilling on some days. But … whew. Add in the inequity of your paycheck in comparison to the importance of your work and the workload involved, and you are pretty much my heroes. I truly believe that Superman wears pajamas with the faces of middle school teachers on them.

Today, I sent in a cake to add to a PTA-sponsored buffet in honor of the week. I didn’t have the time or wherewithal to sign my name on it or to let any of you know it was from me and my son. But maybe that is better—I hope that the anonymity of the gift made you feel loved and appreciated by more people. Like some other holidays I know (cough*Mother’sDay*cough), it almost seems like we shouldn’t need a specially designated week to appreciate teachers. But I am glad we do, if only to give me the chance to pause and make a point of saying thank you. I know what you do is not easy, and it’s one of those jobs that if you do it badly, everyone speaks up. If you do it well, fewer do.

This is my way of speaking up.

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