One of my regrets when I moved from teaching teenagers to teaching 6th graders was the fact that teens on the cusp of adulthood often have the self-awareness to say thank you for the ways in which a teacher has helped to make their world more manageable. Whether it's a thank you for introducing a new idea, for writing a college recommendation letter, or for being sympathetic on a hard day, that part of the job was always quite rewarding for me.
Middle Schoolers, on the other hand, are self-absorbed. Embracing this fact of their very existence is essential to work with them successfully and I knew that going in. To navigate the transitions of adolescence and their growing desire to manage an independent identity, middle schoolers need patient, sympathetic adults who are not their parents. I knew that I was up to that challenge. Even so, I figured I would miss the less selfish elements of working with teenagers. Sometimes, I do miss that. More often, I am completely and utterly enamored by the 6th graders I get to teach.
They laugh easily, and often with their whole soul on display. They expect learning to be fun and assume that new ideas are worth embracing and exploring. They are sweetly honest. They are incredibly eager to please adults and therefore can be re-directed with greater ease. They are bright, poised as they are on the cusp of adolescence and teenage awareness of the world around them. But they are still kids and will play tag or run around the playground with a joy and abandon that quite literally takes my breath away.