On another person's Facebook page this morning, the question was posed," "What is the purpose of public education in the life of a middle school student?"
To help guide them through the tramatic years between childhood and adulthood, giving them the skills they need to cope with any situation that will come their way. It is also about bridging their knowledge from the concrete to abstract, teaching them to analyze, question and solve problems for themselves. Middle schoolers need to see the relevance and potential application of what they are learning in order to truly absorb the material. As middle school educators, our job is to guide them through this bridging process.
Thinking more about my response, and trying to hone my answer to the intial question, I focused on the bridge analogy a bit more in my mind. Middle school truly is a bridge... a bridge across the gap of many aspects of a young person's life.
On the one side of that bridge stands a child, innocent, eager and vulnerable. Across the chasm spanned by middle school, a high schooler lurks in the shadows, not quite an adult, but no longer innocent, no longer as embracing of everything new and exciting, and most of all, independent, fiercely independent, in actions, thoughts and determination.
Somehow, the journey across the bridge has changed that child into the near adult, along the way, leading them to a clearer understanding of themselves, the world around them, and most importantly, how they can change that world.
Elementary students depend on their parents as well as teacher, to tell them what to do, how to do it, and to hold their hand throughout the process. They are concrete thinkers in most aspects, needing to see, smell, and touch something to understand the process. They are eager learners, still excited about the newness of learning.
High schoolers are adult-like, able to grasp abstract concepts, determined to find answers on their own, reluctant to be lead by the adults in their lives. They want to find their own way, or follow the path of their peers. They are often untrusting of anyone over 25, thinking these people are too old to 'get it'. High schoolers LOOK like adults, want to be treated like adults, and deserve the privileges associated with growing age.
Caught in the middle however, kids in grades 6-8, are a special breed all their own. They are begining to look the part of their high school counterparts, with attitudes to match their growing sizes. They are begining to understand abstract thoughts, begining to realize their role in changing the outcomes of their lives, and begining to make choices based on their own thoughts instead of those of their parents and teachers.
Middle schoolers love challenges, love to problem solve, love to be given a chance to think outside their comfort zone. They enjoy being pushed to excel, given responsibility to think, and being led by adults who demonstrate having faith in their ability to accomplish great things.
Middle school teachers have the greatest job in the world. At the one side of the bridge, we are holding the hands of little children, helping them, guiding them, across the span. At the other end of the bridge, we're far behind them, waving from the distance, watching them in their new bodies, racing into adulthood. We have to constantly find the balance between holding their hands, and pushing them across the bridge.