When I see the light go on in eyes of my students, and they start to get excited, it is the best feeling in the world. I have been teaching middle school for 33 years, and it is still the goal I strive for every day. When you get a class in the palm of your hand, it is magic.
I came to Shuksan Middle School in 1993, amidst a group of highly dedicated and energetic teachers and staff. I found in them a group of people who were passionate about kids and teaching. I became part of a school family that was supportive, caring and who worked together to make things better for kids every day. The building was old, yet we made do with what we had until the new school could be built. Often in science classes, when we were doing things requiring electricity, the circuits would overload and trip the breakers. A lot has changed in that time. Technology has changed how I teach, and how students learn, but their needs have remained the same. When I started, we used blackboards, dittos and overhead projectors. Now we use computers, document cameras and electronic interactive smart boards. When we moved into the brand new building five years ago, it was wonderful to have everything new. I think it helped with the pride that students, faculty and staff had in the school. It is easier to build pride for a new facility, than one that is old and not working as well. However, it is not the building that makes a school. It is the staff. Our teachers have always had excellent camaraderie and teamwork. When we moved to the new school it energized and excited everyone, staff and kids alike. For me, it meant teaching science in a real lab setting for the first time. Three years ago, a new administration embraced the strengths of the staff, and helped lead us forward towards becoming a great school. I have always been proud to work at Shuksan, but now I am even more proud because people are beginning to see what we do every day.
I have taught many grades and courses in middle school, but I am primarily a science teacher. As a sixth grade teacher, I enjoy being the first regular science teacher for most of my students. I start my day by setting up the lessons I have planned the night before. My best planning is done at home, so that is how I spend my evenings. Then I put it all together when I get to school. I make sure all my technology is up and running, all the materials are set up, and the room is inviting to kids. However, teaching is a 24-hour job. During the school year, my mind is always thinking about where I am going next with the students, and how I can do things differently.
Students today are more savvy. They are less naive now than when I started teaching, and I think that is a reflection of society. Kids seem to need to have things move faster than in the past, so I try to gear my lessons so that we change what we are doing many times throughout a lesson. Teaching requires being a bit of an entertainer and storyteller, as well as being able to present your subject matter. I try to have the students communicate with each other and be active learners as much as possible. Science used to be taught by developing concepts through performing different lab activities with a small writing component. When the state testing began, the focus was on writing. The pendulum swung and kids were required to do so much writing that some of the joy of science went away. The focus has come back towards the middle now, which seems to be about right. I feel that my job at middle school is to give kids a foundation in science, as well as show them that science is "cool." As they progress in school, I want them to be eager to take biology, chemistry, and physics classes because they are excited to learn more. I teach to see the light go on, and the excitement begin.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This is one in a series of columns by area teachers exploring education today. Doug Robinson teaches at Shuksan Middle School in Bellingham.