I have reached the point in my life where not only have I had the good fortune of teaching middle school, but I had/have middle school students of my own. My oldest is in now in high school and my my daughter is entering 8th grade. Teaching middle school is a bit different from parenting a middle schooler, so I feel as though I have two different perspectives to share from.
I originally wrote this post a couple years ago after talking with my son about his first year in middle school. The quotes are his…love them or leave them. Here are ten insights I wanted to share to help you feel connected and aware as a middle school teacher and/or middle school parent…
“Why do we have so many projects?” Projects are essential. They teach students how to complete a specific task while sharing knowledge, organizing, budgeting time, and using creativity. When we give projects as educators, it is important we provide a rubric with specific criteria, have check-ins to gauge student progress, and most importantly, provide examples or a model of the expectations of the completed project.
It can be so easy to assume that middle school students are BIG KIDS that know it all because at times they seem confident and worldly. The truth is that they require support to bring out the best of their abilities, especially on projects.
On Group Work
“Group work can be annoying when I get partnered up with people that are hard to work with!” We have all been put in positions where we were challenged to work with the individuals we were selected to work with. Part of our work as human beings is interacting appropriately with others even when we don’t see eye to eye.
As teachers, we need to be deliberate and thoughtful when we place our students into groups in order to complete a task. When implementing group work we should consider the following: 1) Do the students know how to delegate the different tasks among group members? 2)Is this a task that can be completed most effectively and efficiently within a group? 3) Are students grouped in a thoughtful way that will enhance their work and productivity? 4) Is the end product best suited for a group?
While we want our students and children to be able to participate thoughtfully and engage enthusiastically in group work, it is our job to teach and model our expectations in order to make group time on task most productive.
“I freaking hate homework!” I have worked in districts where homework was discouraged and in districts where it is an expectation as an extension of the work students are doing in the classroom. Reading and math practice are ideal and essential. Students need to be reading and working to master math facts.
As a teacher I always consider two things when assigning homework: 1) is it necessary? 2) what greater purpose is it serving? If it is a district expectation, make it worthwhile and beneficial of your students’ time. If it is not and you are unable to answer the above considerations, you might want to reconsider your homework policy.
“I love having my own Chromebook!” My middle school son loves technology, as most kids do. It is amazing to have anything we want to know about at our fingertips. It is concerning and scary from a teaching and parenting perspective because our kids have direct access to so many things. As teachers and parents, monitor the technology students are utilizing and recognize the social issues that face middle school students.
In our tech-driven world, it is some of our biggest work to help our students become respectful of technology and the digital footprints they are creating. As both educators and parents, we need to establish expectations and guidelines for technology use and make our students and children aware that everything they search, post, and create generates an online reputation that follows them.
Electronic Learning Systems
Schoology and Progressbook are tools that schools are utilizing to make learning and information easily accessible and readily available for students and their families. As a teacher it has become essential to learn and implement these systems. While digital learning is the way of the world, keep in mind that YOU are the classroom teacher and the face attached to the instruction and learning.
Technology is a tool that we use to enhance our instruction, but teachers are the motivating force that customize and personalize instruction to meet the needs of all learners. As you establish classroom routines and implement instruction, don’t forget to be the driving force and the friendly, knowledgeable expert-face attached to student learning.
An image of the classes a student is enrolled into and recent grades.
Here is a calendar that teachers can create in order to help students keep track of work that is assigned and due dates.
“Mom, look at my grades!” Grades can become something to obsess over. I appreciate the enthusiasm my middle schooler had for his success, but I needed to limit the grade checking in order to keep it from becoming problematic. As teachers we don’t think about entering grades as anything more than completing a task and having one more thing off of our to-do list. To my A-focused middle schooler, it was a constant concern.
I don’t know why some students care so much about grades and others could care less, but I think it is important for parents and teachers alike to explain that the significance of a grade is only that you did your absolute best on the assignment, project, test, or task at hand.
“Lunch is the best part of the day because I can sit and talk with my friends!”
Two thoughts you might not have considered:
- A packed lunch doesn’t mean an eaten lunch.
- Ice cream might count as lunch.
I also realized that putting money on my son’s lunch account for 10-Friday pizza days was not something that worked. My kids pack lunch Monday-Thursday. It is economical for our family. Before I thought to discuss my plan, thinking he had “free money” in his account to use at his disposal, he bought chips and other assorted goodies to compliment his packed lunch. However, that quickly came to a screeching halt when I got the “low lunch funds” email. As a parent, discuss lunch packing and buying expectations.
“I am glad I did choir.” In our middle school the choices for music are band and choir. Band is an option, but not the BEST option for my son or his schedule. We want our children to make choices for themselves, but I knew that in addition to football, basketball, baseball, homework, and wanting to have any time for friends, practicing an instrument would not be high on the priority list. My son began the year a bit reluctant thinking he would be the only boy in choir. He finished the year trying out for solos in the spring concert.
“My friends are good.” As a teacher it can be hard to keep track of so many students and their friends, but it is important that you know that your students have friends, who they are associating themselves with, and how they are getting along with their peers. Do you know the main question I ask at fall conferences as a parent? “How is my child getting along and interacting with peers?”
As a teacher, if you see changes or challenges, touch base with your student and initiate contact with parents. If you are concerned about a student, your positive rapport and connection with that student could make the greatest impact in helping them navigate a challenge or a struggle with friends or positive social interactions.
Kids forget things PERIOD! Adults forget things, too. I leave my re-heated coffee in the microwave many mornings as I am hustling my three kids out the door. Would I love to have it? You bet! Did I forget it? Yes! Will I go on without it? Absolutely! Like my forgotten re-heated coffee on an indescribably rushed morning, I will not rescue my middle schooler. A forgotten library book, homework assignment, or project can be frustrating, but what lesson are we teaching our children and students if we drop everything, retrieve it, and race it to school to save the day? The answer is…NOT A THING!
We need them to make the mistake of forgetting, so they recall and remember. When my son gets ready to leave for school in the morning, HE does the quick double check of his backpack. When we allow our middle schoolers to face the natural consequences that come with forgotten items and hold them accountable, they learn to be more thoughtful, more observant, and more responsible.
Teaching and parenting middle school students is important and thoughtful work. As you consider the year ahead, keep in mind the important work you are doing to make it the best year yet for your students. In the end, the kindness, support, and love we give them unconditionally each day, makes the greatest impact.