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An Interview with a Middle School Teacher

May 9, 2014 by Elaine Rottman

Ms. Carri SvobodaWritten by Carri Svoboda, Middle School humanities teacher

Ugh! Isn’t middle school when kids are at their worst?

Are you kidding me? Middle school is when the kids are at their best! They are no longer learning to read but instead reading to learn. They are no longer just following what others say but are starting to question and think for themselves. They are questioning the world around them in a way that they have not done since their toddler days—but now their questions are rooted in experience and information. They are struggling with who they are, where they fit in the world, and why things matter. They are re-examining everything they have been taught to this point and doing all of that while having more brain cell activity than any other time in life save their first two years. 

Brain cell activity? My middle schooler can’t remember to bring his backpack to school.

Exactly. That is because the neuro-pathways that your son has been using since childhood are being rewired. Middle school years are when new pathways are formed. We are laying the foundation for ways of thinking that up to this point students could not do. Their brains were not equipped to think in the ways they will be required to think as adults. As we teach humanities and science and art, we are not teaching just the information; we are paving ways of thinking inside our students’ minds. This is exhausting mental work for our kids and it means that sometimes their brains are so busy forming these new highways of learning, they can actually step over their backpacks on the way to the car and leave them lying in the doorways.

Okay, I hear that, but doesn’t it drive you crazy being stuck in a classroom with 12-14 year olds who can’t remember their backpacks?

For some people maybe it would drive them crazy. The kids don’t just forget their supplies. They are loud and silly and needy and immature, but they are also thoughtful and funny and caring and earnest. I get to walk through life with students when they are most vulnerable to the opinions of others. I get to be an authority—outside of their families— who can say they have value, they were created for a purpose, they are important, and have a place in life. I get to speak into the fears and concerns that are so overwhelming at this age. I get to speak truth when my students are just beginning to understand that real Truth can and does exist and it matters to their lives. I get to be a part of their lives when they are just starting to really learn to think. I get to teach them how to think. Those neuro-pathways are being forged during puberty and I get to be there and be a part of the road construction team. I get to help design those roads for a lifetime of use. I also get to speak into their place in society and how they interact with others. As they develop more and more independence, they need more and more input and direction for what is helpful, appropriate, and morally and socially correct. 

Not only that, but in no way are my students and I “stuck.” Quite the opposite is true. Everything about middle school is about moving. Moving from childhood to adulthood. Moving from dependence to independence. Moving from rote learning to applying what one learns. While a lot can be said to describe what it is like inside a middle school classroom, “stuck” would never be accurate. 

All of that may be true, but I still can’t imagine doing your job.

Throughout my years of teaching middle school, I have never been able to adequately express to people what a privilege and great joy it is to spend my day with young teens. It is more than just a job or career. It is my heart’s delight. There is not a doubt in my mind that God created me to teach middle school. It is my place, my purpose, and my privilege. While you cannot imagine doing what I do, I cannot imagine doing anything else. 

 Ms. Carri Svoboda teaches humanities to eighth grade students at Providence. A veteran teacher, she joined the faculty at the former Santa Barbara Christian School in 2000 after teaching GATE classes at Santa Barbara Junior High for seven years. She earned a B.A. in English with Honors from the University of California Santa Barbara in 1992. In 1993, she earned a Single Subject Teaching Credential in English from UCSB, where she was named Student Teacher of the Year. Ms. Svoboda is a Fellow of the South Coast Writing Project and enjoys continuing participation in teacher education and enrichment.

Click here to learn more about the distinctive Middle School experience at Providence.