I taught 6th graders for roughly 15 years, so while I may not be an expert, I do know a thing or two about building trust and rapport with them. It is a grade level that I love, but 6th grade is NOT for everyone. I can’t tell you how many times someone has asked, “What grade do you teach?” When I respond, “6th grade!” I get comments like:
- “Bless you!”
- “You must be a saint!”
- “How do you do it?”
Frankly, I share those same sentiments with preschool and kindergarten teachers. The bottom line is that, as teachers, much of our experience begins with how well we communicate and empathize with our students. Getting the most out of our students requires us to recognize and adapt to their needs and, in some ways, their expectations of us as teachers.
After teaching 6th graders for several years, I now teach at the 7th grade level. For this post, I want to share some of the wisdom I have gathered over the years from my AMAZING 6th graders, many of whom still send me updates from time to time. As you change grade levels, placements, or tackle teaching for the first time, I wanted to share some tips…
10 things 6th graders want you to know
#1: DANCE. Now, you heard it here first… They no longer whip and nae nae! Get with the times, teach! You can bust out the running man, your version or theirs. It will get a laugh either way! Don’t get me wrong, dance! They will get a big kick out of it and then join in the fun. There is nothing better than a whole-class brain-break dance party, teacher and all!
#2: KINDNESS MATTERS. Always be a little kinder than necessary. Some days, 6th graders can be downright moody. We all have those days. Sometimes a simple, “What’s going on because you don’t seem like yourself today?” goes much farther than anything else you could ever dream of saying. Keep that question in your back pocket. 6th graders need your compassion and kindness.
#3: LISTEN. Listen to their stories and learn about their lives. They have to listen to the stories you tell; give them that same courtesy.
#4: HAVE GOODIES ON HAND. Stickers, ribbons, baked goods, and trinkets are all well-loved by BIG KIDS. 6th graders may seem like they are “too cool for school,” but they will eat them up and love them! You can have a classroom desk elf or grade-level locker fairy! Trust me, they are not above and beyond this magical fun!
#5: BE CONSISTENT. Do what you say you are going to do and stick to your guns! 6th graders want you to be accountable and are expecting it! You may not believe this, but they remember everything you say you are going to do. They will call you out when you don’t stick to that extra recess you promised.
#6: ESTABLISH A ROUTINE AND HAVE STRUCTURE! Structure, structure, structure! They want to know what is coming next! Movie day is a fun surprise; random extended-time testing is not! Prepare them, update them, and keep them informed. A well-informed 6th grader is a diligent 6th grader.
#7: SHARE MEALS. 6th graders like to eat lunch with you! While they love to eat lunch and socialize with friends, they also love the chance to have a one-on-one or small group lunch with YOU. This doesn’t have to take place every day, but 6th graders like to know that this is an option. You will learn all kinds of great things, and they will get to see a more human side of you that they may not see in a whole-class setting.
#8: GIVE AUTHENTIC COMPLIMENTS. 6th graders love to be complimented and recognized for doing special things. They want you to brag about them when something is done particularly well or they have gone above and beyond! Let them hear you bragging, too!
#9: STUDYING AND ORGANIZING HAVE NOT BEEN MASTERED YET. Most 6th graders don’t have it all together. Their desk will be a wreck, and their locker may have a bagged lunch that is week’s old. You will need to teach them organizational skills and continuously help with the organizing process. The same goes for studying! Teach them HOW you want them to organize, study, and practice often. Don’t expect either of these to be automatic.
#10: BE THEIR BIGGEST CHEERLEADER! 6th graders will be your most loyal fans! Forever! Cheer them on in any way you can. Attend their extracurricular activities, ask about their weekends, and encourage them to try new things because YOU KNOW THEY CAN DO WHATEVER THEY SET THEIR MINDS TO!
Best of luck to all of you as you build rapport with your students. Sincerity and trust are important parts of this process. If you are a new middle school teacher, here are more tips for managing middle school students. You will love teaching your 6th graders (most days), I promise!