Why Teach Middle School?

Why teach middle school?

How many teachers ask that question?  When I was first hired for a middle school job, I thought to myself...."Middle school was the worst time of my life.  I cannot believe the universe has placed me back there!"

I accepted the position because I was in need of a job.  I affirmed to myself, as many others do..."I can do this!"

If only that were enough.  Alas, it is not, and that is why so many teachers...especially those who are hired to teach middle school...leave the profession.

For me, middle school was awful.  There are the normal reasons...our bodies are changing, pimples and awkwardness.  At that time, my parents were divorcing, and I was struggling within myself to figure out who I was and what I was all about...silently struggling with anti-gay bullying and doing so in secret because I, myself, was not able or willing to admit it to myself.

So many middle school children struggle with similar things and much, much more than I did.

I remember a profound and life-changing moment that occurred for me when I was 12.  That would be the summer between 6th and 7th grades...1976.

I watched the Olympics, and I saw Olga Korbut win three gold medals in artistic gymnastics.  I stretched in my living room and went outside and tumbled in the grass.  That moment changed my life...and I was 12.  

From that moment, I had this incredible longing to be an Olympic Gymnast.  I had no training and no background at all.  I had many natural gifts as an athlete, but technique.  My middle-class parents were working as hard as they could, but with their marriage falling apart, there was no energy, time or money to start sending me to gymnastics...which is a very expensive sport!  

So, I tucked that dream away...the way 12 year olds do.

This story does have a happy ending.  Promise.  :)

Over the years, I've connected the dots.  

I teach middle school because it is such an incredibly impressionable age.  Most of them haven't found their passions.  Most haven't had an actual experience where they get to be a part of something great. Mostly, they are just floating through life like a boat without a rudder.

As adults, we HAVE found our passions, and when we share those passions with our students, it changes them.  They feel it.  They know when we are gliding through and checking off an administrative box, and when we are truly motivated from a place of realness.  We can help them discover and develop their skill sets in ways that will absolutely alter the course of their young lives. As music teachers, we have the power to give them authentic, memorable, and life-changing performance experiences they will never forget...whether they are the star of the show or in the chorus. 

That's why I teach this crazy, odd, awkward little age group.  

So...back to my little Olympic dream...

About two years before I started teaching, I saw a woman rehearsing something I had never seen before.  It was part dance and part gymnastics.  I fell in love, but I had no idea what it actually was.  
Well...it was aerobic gymnastics!  It was a new, young form of gymnastics I'd never heard of....but I knew that I loved it.  At that moment, I saw my potential Olympic dream.

So, at the end of a horrendous first year of teaching, I got the rule book and read it cover to cover, trained myself and went to my first competition.  

Three years later, I was National Champion!  

It isn't an Olympic sport, but it is always been one of the goals of the leaders in the sport.  

So, now I am old.  I cannot be an Olympian in this sport!  ...But, alas, I have adjusted that Olympic dream!  I have become an internationally certified judge in the sport, and I hope that one day...even if I am on a walker or a cane, I can walk in and judge a round of this awesome sport at the Olympics!

...and it all started while watching television in 1976 when I was 12 years old.

That is why I teach middle school.


  1. Dale, that was impressive! I had never heard of this and your routine was awesome. Thanks for sharing!


    1. Thank you Thomas! It's my "hobby on steroids"....my other passion.

  2. Dale, what a profoundly touching story. I am reading at lunch, and your words have inspired me for the rest of the day. I teach 6 middle school chorus classes a day so I am right there with you. You are an amazing teacher/performer/writer. Thanks so much for sharing your passions with us!

  3. Thank you for leaving this comment! Six chorus classes...Whew! I know you are tired at the end of the day! Nobody understands the energy required to do it better than we do. Have a good rest of the day and a great school year.

  4. What a beautiful post Dale! I got a little misty-eyed when you discussed your own experience in middle school. You have such a wonderful outlook on teaching and what it means to be a part of children's lives. It was very sweet to see all the comments on the Youtube video saying, "That's my chorus teacher!" It's obvious that you make a positive impact on your students. Thanks for sharing!