Whether you are teaching middle school for the first time, or have taught middle school for a few years and still aren’t quite comfortable with the assignment, this article is for you. During the time that I spent earning my degree in education, I always wanted to teach first grade. When I was hired for my first teaching assignment there were no lower elementary assignments available. Because I was certified K-8, I decided to take a position in a newly opened middle school far away from my dream of teaching first grade. Apparently the universe knew something about me that I didn’t know – I was meant to teach middle school students.
Middle schoolers are an interesting group. Not quite grown up, not quite children. They change more during their time in middle school than do elementary students or high school students. They still have a sense of wonder at learning new things. They want to be thought of as adults but don’t have the skills to pull off adulthood full time. Children in middle school have a good sense of humor and will get your jokes even if they sometimes groan when you tell a corny one. Most importantly they are mercurial, changing from one day to the next and sometimes from one class period to the next. If nothing else, they will keep you on your toes.
If you are new to this age group it is wise to remember that they are often referred to as “tweens.” They are between childhood and adulthood but never fully part of either stage. In dealing with children in middle school, you need to make it clear that you are the adult in the room. It is your classroom and the basic rules that you set up are not negotiable. Believe it or not, they will appreciate the structure since so much of their life is ruled by raging hormones and the desire to be grown up.
In this age group, respect is something that they strive for. Make it clear that they must not only respect you but that they must respect each other as well. They are good at following models, so make sure that you show them the respect that you want them to show others. Part of showing them respect is to speak to them quietly or in private when they have broken the rules. The thing they fear most is being embarrassed.
The students that you meet in middle school will most likely come from a variety of backgrounds. You may not know their family structure but chances are that if they have much younger siblings they are expected to act more like an adult than the tween that they are. Help them with this by understanding that they can’t keep up an adult façade all of the time. Be willing to talk to them if you think something is wrong. They will appreciate the attention and you may help avoid a class disruption.
When planning lessons, try to provide a mixture of lecture and hands-on activities. This is especially important if you are on a block schedule with in class time longer than 45 minutes. Although they are maturing, they are not yet at a level where they can comfortably sit still quietly for long periods of time. One of their favorite pastimes is talking, so try to find a way for them to discuss the content during your lesson. It really will make them more likely to stay on task and not have private conversations.
If you are teaching a class that requires the use of equipment, allow the students about five minutes at the beginning of class to look over what they will be working with. This will save problems during the lesson when they can’t resist “playing” with the items. I highly recommend “active” lessons with this age group as it keeps their attention longer and helps them create their own knowledge. This will give them a strong foundation to take to high school.
I hope that you enjoy teaching middle school students as much as I did. Watching them mature, gain confidence and move on to the next stage of schooling was a treat for me. You may find, as I did, that many students will return to visit you when they are in high school to thank you for helping them to become young adults.