I was a 7th-grade English teacher at a suburban Massachusetts middle school for 29 years (plus four years teaching in Maine in the 70s). Many people questioned how I could teach 12 and 13-year-olds for so long, but the truth was, I loved my job! Indeed, there were good days and bad days, good years and years that seemed endless, but there was never any doubt in my mind that I loved that age group. Their energy was boundless, and I loved the silliness and goofiness. However, while I know I prepared them for 8th grade, high school, and beyond, ultimately, they are the ones who prepared me for retirement. I officially retired on June 30, 2019, and the lessons of being around preteens and “new teens” continue to navigate me through my first retirement years.
Pat Dumas is a retired middle school teacher currently living in Cranston, Rhode Island.
Here are some of the lessons I learned from teaching in a middle school:
1. Laugh often. Find humor in the most mundane of activities. Make it your goal to smile broadly and see the silliness in life.
2. Choose your friends wisely. Your friends will bring you up or take you down. Sometimes it is time to drop relationships that bring you down or tweak your time spent with them. Surround yourself with people who bring you joy. Positive people will bring out the best in you.
3. Embrace lifelong learning at any age. Take a class. Join a club. Learn from your friends and family. Open yourself up to learning a new hobby or a sport. Those expand your repertoire of knowledge. Young’uns can keep us up on the latest technology.
4. Everyone needs recess. My 7th graders could have used recess in the day as they had in elementary school- a chance to play, burn energy, catch up on the news, and “just be kids.” Take advantage of any chance to be a kid. Play!
5. Field trips are fantastic! Travel as close or as far as you can. The opportunities for learning and growth are endless. Don’t let lack of money detain you; travel as far as you can afford. Make new memories and meet new people. It will recharge your soul.
6. Forgive. My students were best friends one day and then in a fight. But then they were friends again! The older we get, the more we need to put past grudges behind us. I learned the hard way that forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting; it means I allowed myself the gift of moving beyond the hurt.
7. Keep to a schedule: Somewhat. Yes, you earned the retirement right to have no plan, but sometimes keeping a basic outline of each day gives it some structure. Just like my students had to follow a schedule, or they wouldn’t know where to go and when, a daily or weekly plan can keep you grounded a bit. I schedule my doctor appointments, but I also like to plan out my exercise routine and socializing plans. The beauty of being retired is I can sometimes just scrap the program, sit with a good book, and read for hours, but a rough outline keeps me doing something of note most days.
8. Find purpose. Maybe retirement isn’t what you thought it would be. Find a cause to support. Volunteer work will give you a sense of well-being. Doing for others is ultimately a gift we give ourselves also. Many high schools require students to volunteer for graduation, but it shouldn’t stop there. Or maybe a part-time job is what you need? Some people just can’t adjust to retirement, and that’s ok too! Keep your body and mind busy.
9. Stay connected. Find or make a community. Join a health club, attend a church or synagogue, form a committee, gather friends for coffee or dinner, or join a Meetup. Keep engaging people in your life, no matter how young or old they are.
10. Practice gratitude. There is always a reason to reflect and give thanks. I started each of my classes with Minute Meditation. It was one quick minute of quiet reflection. It seemed to anchor us all and focus the course.
There are so many more lessons I will share, but hopefully, these are some that worked in middle school that can work for you too!