Are You Brave for the Middle Grades?

Your Altitude is Connected to Your Attitude

By: Dru Tomlin

What does it mean to be brave? Bravery has many different connotations in the middle grades. First, as most of us who work with young adolescents know, if you go to any party, picnic, or public place and tell people that you work with middle grades kiddos, the response we get is a mixture of bewilderment, bemusement, and “Whoa. I could never do that. You’re so brave.” Brave. As if we are literally waging war on some unimaginable front. Brave. As if we are desperately trying to defeat a foe bent on destruction and mayhem. Brave. As if we have signed ourselves up for a lifetime of harsh conditions, misery, and disappointment. Brave. And when they say “you’re so brave,” we often play along and perhaps even share a wild tale from the “front lines” to confirm their suspicions about working with young adolescents.
Maybe we say, “Oh this one kid I had once…”
Or we utter, “You’re never going to believe this kid in my class…”
And sometimes we smirk, “This kid drives me crazy--you’ve got to hear this one…”
Now, I’m not immune to this kind of talk, but here’s the charge: I think we should battle against that talk because it disrespects our kids and our profession. Instead of buying into that negative narrative, we need to combat that deficit rhetoric.

Okay, so how do we talk about bravery in the middle grades then? Let’s start by talking about what we get to do—instead of what we have to do. We bravely get to work with awesome kids. We bravely get to collaborate with awesome teachers. We bravely get to ask awesome questions. We bravely get to see awesome gains. We bravely get to face challenges that no one else faces. We bravely get to hear awesome jokes that no one else hears. So let’s tell it clear: the work we bravely get to do doesn’t come from a subtractive, desperate, combative place. It comes from a place of hope, possibility, and opportunity. We are brave because we value and understand young adolescents and admire the fact that they question and challenge us at times. And we are brave because we want our students to have the toolsthe social-emotional, academic, behavioral, and moral currencythey need to be successful, happy, and well. So the next time somebody calls you brave for working with young adolescents, explain your bravery like thatfrom a place of duty, responsibility, joy, and honor to do the work. So yeah, I get to work bravely in a middle school—what do you do? 

And how about the bravery that our kids show every day? Instead of telling wisecracks and disparaging stories about them just to get a laugh at a party, we should be celebrating their bravery, too. They are bravely changing more rapidly than at any other time in their lives. They are bravely navigating social worlds in our hallways, buses, classrooms, locker rooms, cafeterias, and in cyber realms, as well. They are bravely trying to determine how they fit in, why they stand out, or why they blend in so much that no one notices them at all—even at home. They are bravely asking really serious questions and looking for really meaningful answers in a world that sometimes doesn’t take them seriously. And despite all of that evidence of bravery, people still talk about young adolescents being wild, aimless, mischievous, or “off the chain” because they are “swimming in a sea of hormones.” There’s nothing respectful or brave in that kind of reductionist talk. Reducing the brave work of young adolescents to exaggerations, caricatures, or cartoonish metaphors is erroneous, harmful, and disrespectful. Our students are brave explorers, researchers, and leaders who deserve to be celebrated, not devalued, scoffed at, or mocked. So the next time somebody says you’re brave for working with “those kids,” be brave and talk about your kidsyour scholarsfrom a place that sees them with purpose, passion, and potential. So yeah, I get to work with brave middle school kids—what do you do?

So be brave.
So be brave by standing up if you hear someone belittle middle school.
So be brave by talking positively about the middle grades.
So be brave by talking positively about what you get to do.
So be brave by celebrating the students and educators you get to work with.
So be brave.

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4 comments on article "Are You Brave for the Middle Grades?"

My name is Jessica and I'm about to start my student teaching semester and when you wrote about being brave, I kept thinking about being brave when you make mistakes. Sometimes students can catch us off guard and we may stumble a bit or even when we mix our facts up and then it's a student who corrects us. It can feel like we are failing when that happens, but then I remind myself to be brave and soldier on. It could even take just thanking the student for putting us or our facts back on track.

12/11/2016 8:53 PM

My name is Gunnar. I am a students and I am going to be studnet teaching next fall. I agree with so much of what you have stated about the importance of being brave and stepping out of your comfort zone. I have had a student correct me and it did not feel good but I knew I had to be brave and accept that I am not perfect!

12/11/2016 9:43 PM

I agree with everything you have said here in this post. I think one's attitude in how they describe their students says it all. Children pick up on that attitude as well. They can sense when they are not liked and thought down upon and it shows in their behavior in the classroom. A healthy teacher attitude promotes a healthy learning environment.

5/15/2017 12:44 AM

I think this was a beautiful message and one that I completely agree with. I am going to graduate this May from a middle grades teacher education program and I have already heard the negative comments that you addressed. I am excited to become a middle grades teacher because I see all the possibilities and opportunities for young adolescents that I get to be a part of every day. Next time I am given a negative reaction or response to my career choice I will say, "So yeah, I get to...", instead of brushing off someone's ignorant and belittling comment.

12/10/2017 2:07 PM

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