Teaching middle school is not for the faint of heart. Even among devoted educators, the “tween” age group invites hyperbole. They have been described as a hurricane of hormones, the Bermuda Triangle of education. According to Diane Ross, a veteran of 17 years teaching middle school and 13 more leading education courses in Ohio, “If you are the warm, nurturing, motherly, grandmotherly type, you are made for early childhood education. If you love math or science or English, then you are the high school type. If you love bungee jumping, then you are the middle school type.”
Despite the negative hype, Calloway County Middle School teachers Christi Walker and Ashley Underhill are eloquent in their praise of students. With a total of 31 years at CCMS under their belts, they are true professionals who have chosen to devote their careers to teaching middle school, and they navigate the ups and downs of adolescent behavior with wisdom, grace and good humor.
Mrs. Walker enjoys this age group better than all others. “Elementary kids are cute and sweet,” she says, adding that the little ones are “always wiping their noses on you.” High school students, on the other hand, can be complacent. “Middle school is fun,” she insists. “Some days they like you and some days they don’t.”
Mrs. Underhill finds middle school appealing because the students are still at a formative stage, even though they are not likely to think of themselves that way. “I compare them to Play-Doh,” Ashley admits. “There’s still some time to mold them. Teachers can still have an impact at this stage.”
Both Christi and Ashley teach reading and writing, which have been divided into separate classes in language arts this year. Mrs. Underhill especially likes teaching writing because students’ progress can be measured. “Writing is an ongoing process,” she declares. Her approach is to keep track of her students’ strengths and weaknesses while also incorporating peer evaluation and feedback. As a result, students develop skills and confidence that help them improve their writing.
Both women confess to a love of literature, with Christi expressing a preference for poetry. “I wrote poetry books as a child,” she says.
She strives to pass her passion on to her students. Currently, they are reading one of her favorites, “Children of the Dust” by Karen Hesse. Christi loves the novel because it tells its story about the Dust Bowl in poetic form. “I end up loving all the books,” she admits with a sheepish smile, confessing that she sometimes reads the most inspiring passages aloud to her husband.
Students in both Christi’s and Ashley’s classes seem to enjoy hearing about their teachers experiences when they were in middle school. Mrs. Underhill’s kids are aware that she waged a successful battle against anorexia at that age. In addition, when she started hanging around with a group of girls who had a negative influence, her loving mother and father guided her to a better path. Ashley is grateful to this day.
“If I hadn’t had such good, involved parents,” she asserts, “I could have been in trouble.”
Christi’s students try to get her talking about how she and her husband met when they were in eighth grade. The kids never tire of hearing about how the two dated in high school and ended up getting married a week after high school graduation. “We only broke up once freshman year,” Christi recalls. When asked if she remembers the reason for the rift, “It was his fault,” she quips.
Because neither one takes herself too seriously, Christi Walker and Ashley Underhill know how to weather the storm and calm the choppy waters of adolescence. Buoyed by their knowledge and professionalism, the kids of Calloway Middle are fortunate to have such competent and committed teachers at the helm.
For more information on the challenges associated with middle school, read an online article by Peter Meyer, at http://educationnext.org/the-middle-school-mess/.