Welcome Back Kotter was a huge hit on TV back in the 70’s. Gabe Kaplan as Gabe Kotter, a high school teacher, returns to his old high school in Brooklyn to teach. The characters, including John Travolta, were unforgettable and the term Sweathogs affectionately entered the education lexicon as a synonym for challenging students. The cool think about Mr. Kotter was that he really cared about his students — he would have made a great middle school teacher.
Ed Brazee–professor, mentor, and friend to many Maine middle level educators–is experiencing his own “Welcome Back” moments this fall. What’s it like to return to a middle grades classroom after 20 + years at the university level??? Here, let’s have Ed tell his own story…
I never said it was easy!
And that was only my first day.
After a 29-year hiatus from teaching middle school this fall I’m teaching as a full-time, long-term substitute teacher at Leonard Middle School (Old Town, ME). Here is a glimpse into my first four weeks.
Challenging—YES! Being “on” all day; adjusting to the sprint-like pace from start to end of the school day: five minutes for homeroom, 35 minutes for academic focus, meet with the team, go to after-school PD, attend parent night, learn about the iPad rollout, set up my new Apple TV, learn how to use the Infinite Campus program for standards and more. And lunch is still only 11 minutes. I ate my lunch after school everyday for the first month. Note that I haven’t even mentioned teaching anything in this section. The new-to-me math curriculum, planning for our integrated block. Yes, I would say very challenging.
Humbling—After week one, humbling would have been at the top of the list. My favorite quote from week #1…“You know, we are like this because you are only a substitute.” That told me volumes about my role in the class so I doubled my efforts and learned everyone’s name, saying hello to each one by name several times a day. At the end of week four, a compliment, “You are the best sub we’ve ever had.” Middle school student hyperbole, but still appreciated. Early on I was concerned that I couldn’t keep up as a middle school teacher. Many of the teachers at my school are my former students at UMaine and I still wake up at night with nightmares that they are lining up outside my room to see if I am the teacher I encouraged them to be. Yikes!
Exhausting—Bone tired. Come home and take a nap after school tired. Ok, the last time I taught middle school I was only 36 (now 65) so that might account for my tired state. On my feet for most of the day, of course, but more important is the sheer energy that 13- and 14-year-olds bring with them. Dozens, no hundreds of questions each day. My head is spinning. I am at my best as they walk in the door at 7:45 a.m. but many of them are still sleep walking. By noon when our integrated block begins, I’m ready for a nap. I push on! When I go home every night, my wife wants to hear about my day. I say that I need a quiet hour or two first.
Fun—With my limited observation of the first few weeks of school, I would say that 8th graders haven’t changed all that much since my last teaching stint. Still interested in themselves and each other. Still caring, sometimes compassionate…and noisy! They make me laugh with the things they say, who they are, and who they hope to be. Best quote of week #4 during a discussion about digital citizenship…”Dr. Brazee, did you know that in some states it is illegal to have sexual relations with a porcupine?” When I heard that I said to myself, “Ed, welcome back to middle school!”
I am extremely fortunate to be in an excellent middle school with great kids, a supportive administration, helpful and encouraging teachers, and engaged parents. And I am very lucky to be teaching as the third member of a 2-person team! I’m subbing for my good friend and long-time colleague (and former student) Dr. Gert Nesin who is undergoing medical treatment this year; our teaming partner is Jay Meigs-McDonald. To watch these two in action is a treat and a learning experience everyday for me. Gert will be in and out as she is able and we will connect with her electronically when she can’t come to school. Just this week she taught a math lesson to our 8th grade class from her living room. Powerful and amazing; more on this later.
It feels great to be back.
Welcome Back Dr. B!