Career Story: Middle School Science Teacher

Middle School Science Teacher

Job Title: Middle School Teacher

Type of Company: I work for an independent K-12 school with about 450 students in North Carolina's Research Triangle.

Education: BA, Geology, with minor concentrations in biology and education

Previous Experience: I've worked as a reporter for fifteen years and I was a full-time stay-at-home dad for about a dozen years.

Job Tasks: I teach a year-long integrated science class for seventh grade students and a trimester-long history class. I am also an advisor to nine students of middle school age, helping with their academic, social and emotional growth. In addition, I am one of three advisors to our eighth grade class, helping them navigate the responsibilities and expectations that have been thrust on them as the oldest students in our middle school. I also help with technology support and development.

In an independent school we are allowed the freedom to develop our curriculum in a way that reflects our individual strengths as well as our students' individual needs. I see myself as a "lifelong learner" (although that term is woefully overused these days!) in that I have the opportunity to create a new curriculum to fit the needs and interests of my students as I identify them. We do not need to "teach to the test" and indeed do not administer any standardized tests (although our high school does administer the ACT and SAT).

I teach three science classes and one history class each morning. I see each of our seventh graders in this daily 45 minute science class, and also see one third of them in the history class. My science class covers life, earth, space and atmospheric sciences, focusing on student observation of the natural world. The history class focuses mainly on US geography and civics.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: I love the freedom to create a curriculum that conforms to my own and my students' interests. I enjoy interacting with middle school students, who are usually a wonderful combination of child and young adult. Among the challenges of the job are dealing with the mood swings of adolescents, and with their brief attention spans. One needs great patience!

Job Tips: The most important qualities of a good teacher are patience, humility, a sense of humor, empathy, compassion, curiosity and a desire to learn. Notice I have not mentioned specific knowledge in a content area. Obviously knowing what you're teaching is necessary and even crucial, but knowledge alone will not make a good teacher. If you like kids you have potential; the only way to know you're a good, or maybe a great, teacher is to do it. Much of what you need to know, you will learn on the job.

Notice too that I have not mentioned needing a degree in education. As a lateral entrant into the profession, I am probably biased; nonetheless, while students who have a major in education doubtless learn much that will be useful, most of what you learn will come when you are in your own classroom. That said, I strongly encourage prospective teachers to take as wide a variety of college classes as possible. (As a former journalist, I would offer the same advice to prospective reporters!)

Additional Thoughts: Beware! In my lifetime, I have had a number of full-time jobs besides my current one: construction laborer, machinist, actor (stage and TV commercials), a radio and television reporter and a stay-at-home father. None was as demanding, challenging or difficult as being a teacher. It is no surprise that many people who begin a career as a teacher move on to something else. This is not a sign of incompetence or cowardice. It's a really hard job. It's also a potentially very rewarding job - to know you have made a difference in someone's life.

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