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the Last Word

You are what you teach

by Natalie Gaspari '07

keysWhen I tell people I'm a middle school teacher, I almost always get the same response: "Wow. You're brave." The truth is I wouldn't want to teach any other grades!

Middle school students can indeed be challenging, but they are fun to be around and they are at a great age to watch them grow socially. Plus, as I always say, they can wipe their own noses and tie their own shoes, but they still like school to some degree.

At Albright, I student-taught at the high school level. Despite the positive influence my professors had on me, by the end of my 10 weeks of student teaching I didn't think I wanted to be a teacher any more. Apparently, though, teaching wanted me.

After graduation I landed a job at Collegium Charter School in Exton, Pa., teaching seventh-grade writing and grammar and eighth-grade literature.

I thought it must be easier than high school, right? Wrong.

For five years now I have not only taught middle school students, I have had to turn into a middle school student. I have had to slip into the mindset of a 12- or 13-year-old in order to connect with my students, but it has taught me many things. For one, students at this age grow up a great deal during these two crucial years, and the lessons taught in the classroom far surpass reading, writing and arithmetic.

I'll never forget the seventh-period, eighth-grade honors literature class I had my first year teaching. They were intelligent and I was excited to push them to their limits. However, they decided to push something, too: my buttons.

One student coordinated a class-wide effort to not participate in class. There were a few students who felt bad for me and would raise their hands, but the majority refused to participate.

Fortunately, the students' plan was discovered by another teacher when she overheard them talking about it. These same students are now seniors, and we laugh about the days when getting your friends' attention was more important than gaining the knowledge needed for the future.

But this is just what middle school students do. They learn how to become adults.

When I was in seventh and eighth grade, I had a difficult time socially. I was constantly seeking an adult to confide in because I could not relate to others my age. Besides my mom and dad, I didn't have a solid adult figure in my life to help me through this tough transition.

This is what drives me to do whatever I can to connect to my middle school students, even if it means reclaiming my immaturity and giggling over a silly word. Or asking a student who looks troubled,"What's wrong?" It might be as trivial as a lost book, but showing concern will go a long way. Or even getting involved in their lives through sports, school dances, plays and other activities. When they see you support them, they will support you and your efforts in the classroom.

I hope to be that person to help them mature into the successful adults they will someday be.

Many teachers agree that teaching social skills is just as important as teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. In some ways, it may be even more important. Each year I tell my students that by the end of the year, if they have learned what respect really is, I will be a happy teacher. Simple lessons like these, like not talking when someone else is talking, are embedded in the classroom every day. It's my job to make sure they learn them.

I never thought I'd grow so attached to a group of people so quickly. When my students graduate eighth grade and move on to high school, it often feels like I've been left behind.

But then, August rolls around again, bringing with it a fresh batch of pubescent, eye-rolling 12-year-olds. Suddenly, my frown turns into a fit of immature giggles.

Natalie Gaspari '07 is a seventh- and
eigth-grade teacher at Collegium
Charter School, Exton, Pa.

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