Teaching: The Middle Child of Education


Middle Child Syndrome: The feeling of being ignored or excluded. I believe that there is a group of teachers within the field of education that experience the same syndrome. People often work to encourage and inspire first-year teachers as they enter the profession. Many veteran teachers are praised and awarded for their efforts. This is both admirable and necessary! However, those of us that have taught five, seven, 15, or even 20 years sometimes feel forgotten. As a fellow middle child of teaching, I want to take this opportunity to encourage you and remind you of these truths:

Teaching is a calling. 

Some teachers first felt the call to teach at a very young age. I remember asking my preschool teacher for extra worksheets to take home so I could teach my stuffed animals. Others, like many of my friends and family, feel the pull toward education and begin to pursue this profession much later in life. Whatever personal or professional motivations have led you to your current role in education, know that you are consistently rising to the occasion and fulfilling your calling. 

You are not defined by “the scores.”

I have had many individuals try to assign my worth and value based on test scores, including administrators, state lawmakers, parents of my students, and even myself. I struggle with receiving my worth from the accolades that seem to be attached to high scores. I have learned that it is better for me to strive to maintain a humble confidence in myself and my abilities and allow that confidence to shape my identity and self-worth. As I learn this important lesson, I want to remind you: Your identity is not found in student data. During her commencement speech at the University of Southern California, Oprah Winfrey said, “Your job is not who you are, it’s just what you’re doing on the way to who you will become.” Teaching is what you do. You are not confined to an identity defined by your successes and failures in a classroom. You have the freedom to be confident in who you are while you grow and increase in knowledge and experience. 

You are free to fail. 

Teachers often experience the negative self-talk that comes with perfectionism and comparison. We look to the teacher across the hall that seems to have it all together and wonder how long it will take us to reach that finish line of perfection. Six months into my first year of teaching, I realized that I might not be a ‘natural’ teacher like I always expected. I assumed that because I was called to this profession, I would have the natural ability to be an outstanding teacher, the best classroom manager, and possibly be nominated for Teacher of the Year right away. I quickly realized that this was not the case. I have had to fight for every ounce of success experienced in my classroom through professional learning opportunities, conversations with other teachers, and long afternoons of planning and searching for the best strategies. As I navigated through these rough waters, I realized that taking risks, trying new things, and stepping into the possibility of failure are all important keys to growth. There is no way to succeed as an educator without making mistakes…and that is okay. 

You are appreciated. 

Sometimes it might feel like the only appreciation you receive is a Buy-One, Get-One-Free burrito offer from Chipotle on Teacher Appreciation Day. It’s hard to consistently be ‘in the trenches’ teaching without receiving any affirmation, encouragement or validation. I want to remind you that what you are doing is making a significant impact. There are countless students sitting in your classrooms that are evolving into lifelong learners with outstanding character, prepared to make positive contributions to society. This outcome is not simply a side effect of spending twelve years in a school building. This is a direct result of the relational teaching and best practices you are implementing on a daily basis. 

Maybe your passion is currently lacking due to high stakes testing, fear of failure, or lack of affirmation from others. On the other hand, maybe you had a great year and your passion has never burned brighter! Wherever you find yourself on that spectrum, it is my hope that these simple reminders have helped you to feel validated, encouraged and inspired, especially as a “middle child.”

Hess, Abigail. “Oprah to the Class of 2018: ‘Your job is not who you are’.” CNBC, www.cnbc.com/2018/05/11/oprah-to-the-class-of-2018-your-job-is-not-who-you-are.html. Accessed 27 June 2019.


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