When I entered my MS in Ed program, I thought I wanted to teach upper elementary–4th and 5th, maybe 3rd. I definitely thought I wanted to teach everything to the same students all day. I’m interested in and enjoy learning about a lot of different things, and I thought that only having one group of students would let me forge stronger relationships with them. Even though all my teaching experience had been with high school students, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to teach entire classrooms of them. So I ended up with a multiple subject certification.
I’m someone who often needs to actually try things out before knowing what she wants, and I’m grateful that education is flexible enough for me to do that. I had two very different types of teaching jobs before figuring out what the right fit for me is. In one, I had hundreds of (mostly K-3) students and saw each class once a week; in the other, I had one group of 27 6th graders all day. In one, I taught one subject; in the other, I taught six. It didn’t take me long to realize that I do not work best with primary students, and that I find teaching six subjects to the same group of students incredibly draining. I never felt adequately prepared, no matter how much time I spent on a lesson or unit, and I felt pressured to get through the material quickly. Because I was with the same students all day with no prep or even passing periods, the school day felt overwhelming and unstructured.
I love my current teaching position: two periods of 6th grade ELA, two periods of 6th grade Social Studies, and an elective the last period of the day. I teach the entire grade, but since it’s a small school, that’s only around 60 students, and I have all of them for ELA and Social Studies. I’m finding that I really love specializing. At the middle school level, I really need the time to feel confident and knowledgable in what I’m teaching, and it’s far easier for me to do that with one or two subjects than with six. It also helps that I’m teaching subjects I love and have degrees in. I even majored in Classical Archaeology and Ancient History, which makes teaching Ancient Civilizations–the 6th grade SS curriculum–perfect for me. I’m finding I really like middle schoolers, too. They’re old enough to have some independence, and I like teaching them skills they’re going to need in high school and college. Middle school is rough for a lot of students–it certainly was for me–and I think it’s important to give 6th graders a solid foundation.
It’s been a process for me to figure out what subjects and grade level is best for me. I’m still sort of figuring that out. I’m finding that I enjoy teaching Social Studies more than ELA (although with my revamping of my ELA curriculum, I may end up having an easier time with ELA this year), and I’m taking the first subtest of the Social Science CSET in case I end up wanting to teach only Social Studies, or in case later on I want to move up to high school. (Working with high schoolers for three weeks each summer is enough for me right now, but that may change as I get more experienced as a classroom teacher.) I’m glad I’ve had such different teaching experiences, and that I was able to figure out fairly quickly what subjects and age levels were a good fit for me. Sometimes I do wish I had known what I wanted earlier–it would have saved me all the studying I’m doing this summer, and I would have had three years in my preferred teaching job instead of just one–but having those different experiences means I’m not going to be wondering if I should move down to a lower grade, or if I should try teaching a different subject. I’m still figuring out how to work debate into my teaching job. I don’t want the time commitment (and emotional intensity) of running a competitive debate team, and it’s tough to really teach debate to middle schoolers in a trimester. I want to try mock trial as my elective this year, which I think should work pretty well and should hit on many of the same skills.
How did you figure out what grade level/subject was right for you? Did you always know, or did you have to try different things first? Do you have any advice for education students or newer teachers who are still figuring that out?