Sometimes, when I tell people that I love teaching middle school, they look at me like I’ve grown several new heads. They just can’t fathom what could be so great about it. I've taught middle school for 12 years, so I've had a bit of time to figure out what I like so much. It’s tough sometimes, but the challenge is part of what I love. Other teachers (middle school teachers?) agree: middle school is completely different from elementary and high school, but in a good way. If you don’t believe me, I’m not surprised. Read on to learn what I think are a few of the best things about teaching middle school.
It’s Always Something New
In The Young Adolescent Learner, Fran Slayers and Carol McKee, both former middle school teachers, talk about the middle school mindset. Those tween years are chaotic at best. Middle schoolers are going through so many changes in their lives, and that is reflected in their behavior in class.
It’s a fun challenge to figure out how to keep their attention, appeal to their changing minds, and keep them engaged. Most middle school students like to play games and do activities that let them get up and move. They're independent and great thinkers and questioners; many of them feel free to make suggestions about how to change or improve an activity, which is wonderful, because I’m always looking for new teaching methods and activities. My students help me continue to become a better teacher.
High schoolers can be just too cool to laugh at a corny joke and elementary schoolers are too young to get certain jokes. Middle schoolers are the perfect age for teachers to crack jokes. They have a great sense of humor and it makes it easier to joke around a little and play fun games as part of the teaching process. Many of them love to share their own funny stories and jokes; it's a great way to connect.
I Help Shape the Future
Yes, middle schoolers are going through plenty of changes with their minds and bodies, but middle school is the perfect time to help mold them for the future. Students in this age group still have the optimism of a child, but they are starting to think more like adults. They’re forming opinions of the world and thinking about their futures. I love being able to be a part of this process. For instance, if I can instill the importance of math in terms of their future career, they may learn to embrace math as part of achieving their goals.
Of course, it’s always nice to hear from a student years later that something I said or did gave them the confidence to go for what they dreamed of.
I Get to Teach Empathy
No, empathy itself isn’t a class, though our school does have a program that gives us the opportunity to meet with students every week and discuss issues they may be having, especially as those issues relate to bullying. Middle school is the time that the bullies can really start making life hard for their fellow students. Our weekly meetings give students the chance to talk about these issues (and others). We have time to brainstorm ways to approach issues, talk about possible situations before they occur, and even role play how to deal with these problems.
I think creating a culture of empathy in the classroom is vital to middle school development. It’s a chance to teach them to think about others and consider their actions. It also continues to help me be more empathetic. This is part of why I like to use games and puzzles in the classroom. It’s a chance for my students to work together and better understand each other.
I’m A Role Model
Middle school is an impressionable time. It’s also a time when students start to question authority. My students know that I’m firm, but fair. I'm empathetic, but I have high expectations and I make them clear. When they do something wrong, I call them out. Depending on the particular situation, I don’t simply tell them to stop; I explain why they need to stop. I tell them stories about myself and others.
It makes me hold myself accountable, knowing that I’m a role model during a time when good adult role models aren’t always easy to find.
Honestly, the best thing about teaching middle school is growing with the kids. They’ve helped me throughout the years to better understand myself and become a better teacher. For that, I’ll always be grateful.