5 Gleanings from My First Middle School Year
By Patti Grayson
Is the middle ever a good place to be? We hear about the woes of being a middle child, hate being stuck in the middle seat on an airplane, and dread the inevitable “middle age.”
And then there is middle school. Ugh. Jeff Kinney, author of the popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, writes, “I’ve never run into a person who yearns for their middle school days.” So true! Middle school brings back memories of struggling through the awkward years of puberty, cruel and judgmental classmates, and school pictures I would have paid my parents NOT to order.
Actress Zooey Deschanel said, “Nothing could be as hard as middle school.” Yet this year, after many years teaching elementary grades (3-4) and leading a high school youth group at church, I ventured bravely into the middle… the “Land of the Gland.”
Venturing into the Middle
In the months before I began this new adventure I met with our guidance counselor who had a slideshow to share with me, depicting a wonderfully hilarious look at what it meant to be a middle schooler.
Despite the lighthearted tone, the tug on my heartstrings was powerful as I was reminded of the struggles middle school kids face. I suddenly wanted desperately to make middle school better for my students – to give them a safe person to confide in – to help them love themselves and each other through these difficult years.
So how did it go? Yesterday was our last day of school, and I think it’s safe to say I survived and mostly prospered. It would be tough, though, to determine who grew more this year. Probably me.
Here are a few things I gleaned
If you’ve spent years as a middle school teacher, this likely won’t be new information – but a reminder is always a good thing. If you’re new to teaching or just new to teaching in the middle, you might find my new-found insights can help you along the way.
- PRAISE IS CRUCIAL. Middle schoolers have huge self-confidence issues – even if they cover them well. Compliments, both personal (notice the new shirt or the haircut) and academic (praising an assignment or test that helps bring up their average), go a LONG way. They crave the positive attention and the realization that you notice AND care.
- MAKE YOURSELF AVAILABLE. Offer to meet before school, during study hall, or after school for extra help, and open your room for students to “hang out” in the morning or during breaks. Give yourself this opportunity to get to know them. They will inevitably begin to trust you and share with you.
- SNIP THE SNARK. Although middle schoolers try to act “cool,” they are incredibly sensitive and will take your sarcastic or snarky comment to heart. They can dish it out, but can’t take it. They’ll laugh it off now… and then dwell on it for weeks. Weigh your words carefully.
- PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE. For reasons we cannot totally understand, middle school students are, by nature, inconsistent. They will ace one test and fail the next. Hormones are coursing through their systems, causing a wide range of issues regarding maturity, commitment, emotion, and ability to focus. They are painfully disorganized and distractible. This too, shall pass…
- LOVE THEM. Their parents are yelling about messy rooms and grades, their “friends” are judging their every move, and their bodies are changing faster than they can process. Don’t judge them. Encourage them. Smile. Laugh. Have fun with them. Be the oasis in the middle of these tumultuous years. The joy will be returned to you tenfold…
Drawings & feature image (State College Middle School)
Patti Grayson is a middle school teacher at Hampton Roads (VA) Academy and is a member of their digital learning leadership team. She currently teaches Math, English, and a Computer Skills/Digital Citizenship course at the middle level, but has spent most of her teaching career in 3rd and 4th grade. Her articles have appeared at Powerful Learning Practice, MiddleWeb, MindShift, and Teach.com and were featured in Powerful Learning Practice’s book, The Connected Teacher: Powering Up. Her Mystery Skype Lesson Plan is available at the PLP Store. She was named a Top 10 Teacher in the Hampton Roads community for 2012, and blogs at Patti’s Ponderings. Follow her on Twitter @pattigrayson.