This post is dedicated to middle school teachers.
Middle school is such an awkward time in life for everybody. Puberty hits and BAM! Body hair, body odor, breasts, butts and social standing begin take precedence over school. I remember my middle school years, and boy where they embarrassing! It’s a time when not only bodies begin to change, relationships begin to change as well. The friends you had through elementary school start acting differently. Everybody wants to be somebody, so they can adjust to the changes going on in their lives (physical, social, academic, etc.).
For those of you who teach that age, my hat’s off to you! I have taught middle school ESL and quickly learned that I don’t have the patience to deal with their antics (which is why I prefer elementary, haha!). Seriously though, it is difficult to teach middle school students. They are thrust into a world of mixed expectations. Adults expect them to begin to act more “adult-like”, and yet they are still kids that want to have fun. They are starting to form an identity, discover how certain body parts work, and all the while possibly lose interest in school.
Ten tips for keeping middle school students interested in learning
I was browsing around on the web for tips on teaching middle schoolers, and came across these tips by the Chicago Academic website.
- Determine their worth. – Seriously, value them (but more in a personal way). I think too often, young adolescents are undervalued in their thoughts and opinions. While their views are certainly immature and ill-informed, they should still be heard. In fact, it is because their views are misinformed that they should be heard – only then can they be corrected. The fact that someone is willing to listen to them really goes a long way towards building self-confidence and a positive image.
- Hug a computer! While we all love technology, it’s important to set up boundaries. We’ve come a long ways since the over-head projector days (I remember those). Technology is becoming more integrated into education with smartboards, learning apps, and sites like Edmodo and ClassDojo to help manage student behavior and classwork. Technology gives students fun and exciting visual ways to encourage learning and developing different thinking processes! Also, middle school students should also learn how to stay safe online and about the harmful effects of cyber-bulling.
- Have a parade! – While a real parade would disrupt classes around the entire school, showing off their accomplishments won’t! Students need to receive positive and constructive feedback about their work. When they do something exceptionally well, post it up on the wall! They should feel proud of doing so well in an assignment or paper. This act lets them know that they matter.
- Encourage curiosity. – While it is important to teach facts and figures, it’s just as important (if not more so) to help students develop their own curiosity. Coming across something you don’t know can be scary, but at the same time present the perfect opportunity to learn something new. Help middle school students ask questions of their own, and then give them the tools to find out the answer for themselves (or with appropriate guidance if necessary).
- Give them a choice. – Oftentimes teachers like to decide for their students, thinking they have their best interests at heart. Many times, that’s not the case. Teachers make decisions based on what needs to be covered in the course during the year, usually aligned to state and/or national standards. That is good and all, but how many students really want to read The Catcher and the Rye? Maybe some aspects of the class should be decided solely by the teachers, but other parts don’t have to be. When setting up a disciplinary system, ask the students about what they would like to see happen. If you give them choices about their behavior and allow them to thinking about the possible consequences, you help them learn good decision-making skills. This type of cognitive development is critical at this age!
- Give Back. – Adolescence is a great time to let kids know they can make an impact in their community. Volunteer programs are an excellent way to help teens become positively involved with their community. It gives them a voice and the chance to understand how their words and actions affect those around them. They don’t have to volunteer in a soup kitchen or anything like that, but even something as simple as a community garden (or school garden) can teach kids the importance of hard work, trust, and building relationships with others. Mentoring programs can help kids as well.
- Do the Humpty-hump! – Well maybe teens don’t do the “Humpty Dance” these days, but don’t let that keep you from taking them to the old skool! In all seriousness, whatever kids are interested in these days shouldn’t be disregarded. Their interests are just as important to them as yours are to you. Pay attention to what they like and try to incorporate that into your lessons. Middle school students might be more interested in learning if the lessons contained things they are interested in.
- Let’s get physical! – I don’t mean “physical” in an Olivia Newton-John way, but in more of a Joe Montana way. Physical activity helps teens stay strong and healthy. As their bodies grow, sports such as basketball, football, or soccer, help them develop muscle control, speed, and endurance. Encourage middle school students to try a variety of sports and activities, allow them to figure out what they like to do.
- Use positive reinforcement. – This cannot be stressed enough. Many teachers focus on what their students are doing wrong instead of what they are doing right. Congratulating students on what they have done well helps build self-esteem and can give them a drive to continue doing well. If students’ efforts are met with negative criticism, it may just kill whatever interest or desire they had.
- Show them the future! – I remember my teenage self thinking adults are all boring who just wanted to kill my fun. I still feel that way sometimes even as an adult. Adolescents should be given the chance to discover a wide variety of careers. There are more types of jobs than just STEM field ones, and job shadowing is an excellent way for students to see first-hand what professionals do in their selected field. Encourage them to shadow people in different careers, from medicine to social services or even waste management (hey, they need workers, too). These opportunities help students think about what they would like to do in their future, and help them decide on what courses to take later on in school.
Keep up the good work, middle school educators, and don’t give up!