Friday, May 13, 2011

Middle schoolers get a bad rap. Just today, a former student came back to sub for the day. I was excited to hear teaching was his 'backup plan' for law school, thinking if we could get this kid in a classroom, he'd be the kind to make a real difference in the lives of middle school kids. When he was in middle school, he wasn't a bad kid, just a kind of average kid - funny, smart, but not outstanding, just one of those you remember fondly but without a lot of horror stories to go along with the memory. He would understand their goofiness, their jokes and pranks, but take it all in stride. He'd be the kind to find the perfect balance between academics and fun.

Instead of being geeked about middle school, he insisted he wants to teach in upper elementary grades. I realize there is a need for male elementary teachers, but my heart will always defend the middle grades so I asked him, "Why not middle school?" with a hint of teariness in my voice.

He recounted how he'd subbed in 8th grade last week in a different school, and how horrible it was. His day here did not much better when I touched base later.

How can we convey how cool this grade level is to new teachers, hook them into wanting to be a part of the adolescent experience?? Middle schoolers are old enough to carry on 'adult' conversations. They love anything funny and unique. They crave the new, the different and the exciting. They are loving, trusting, and intelligent. Their willingness to be goofy for the sake of being goofy is unmatched by any other grade. They are simply the coolest people on the planet!

I tried to convince him that a well run middle school class does not have to be chaotic and out of control, but the look of terror in his eyes said he didn't believe a word I said. Too bad... he's just the kind of new blood middle level education needs to pump in some new excitement!


Masquerading Mom said...

When I tell people that I am majoring in middle school education, the responses I receive are both sad and comical. Genuine smiles distort into looks of horror and disbelief, and then they ask, "Why???!!!???"

Well, why not? Middle schoolers are not horrible, even if they are sometimes challenging. I love the mix of adult/child in each of them, how they can make meaningful observations one minute and be completely goofy the next. Maybe it's because I'm a mom of five sons, but I think people are missing out. :)

Anonymous said...

I'll be going to college this Fall to earn a degree in middle education:) When I tell people what I plan to major in they are in disbelief. What advice do you have for having a calm and controlled classroom?

cossondra said...

Part of me laughed at the ‘calm and controlled’ classroom concept in middle school, to be perfectly honest. It is a great question... BUT....
Middle schoolers are rarely ‘calm’. However, you CAN have a controlled classroom if you are willing to adjust your expectations for what calm looks like.
The key to any type of order in a middle school classroom is in the planning. Plan your class period to meet their needs for movement and conversation. Vary instruction to include a variety of activity types throughout the class.
If you need to give notes or lecture to them, plan the time according to age. A general rule of thumb is one minute of quiet per age of student. So for the average 7th grader, 12 minutes of sitting quietly, listening or writing, is all you are going to get from them successfully! After 12 minutes or so, change the pace. Have them talk to a partner about what you’ve been discussing. Have them get up and move to a new location to talk to a different partner. Have them draw a sketch of what they have just learned and share it. Design a graphic organizer for them to complete and have students come to the board and add details. Just some ‘change of pace’ activity.
Always be moving yourself. Don’t lecture just from the front. Walk around the desks, talking with students, noting ‘good job on your notes’ or ‘you might want to add a few details here’ as you wander. Randomly ask students to share a thought or add to your discussion. Be specific in your prompts. “Does anyone have a question?” or “Does everyone understand?” will seldom elicit a response, but “Can you explain why…” or “Put my words into your own words for us…” can sometimes get even the most reluctant student to share.
Planning movement is often the best way to control adolescents. Have them scoot their chairs to sit with someone else. ( A great way to achieve this with ease is to have all students have a letter/symbol/number- then you can direct all the A’s to get together…If you plan this ahead and use different grouping strategies, students will understand the protocol and use it efficiently.)
Another fun activity for movement is a gallery walk – hang up a sheet of paper in several different locations. Students move in groups from one sheet to the next adding information. This can be a pre-activity for accessing prior knowledge, or a review game, or completing steps to an algebra problem.. the idea is they are moving and collaborating! The 2 things they CRAVE most :)
Plan for handing out papers, whether an assignment to be completed, or those graded to be returned, for those moments when certain ‘culprits’ need to move around.
Really, if you stop and think about how YOU feel when you have to sit for an hour, and how you’d give ANYTHING to get up and move around, you’ll be able to come up with a wide variety of options to change the pace, change the venue, and change their attention.
It might not be calm, but it CAN be controlled chaos :)