Confessions from a Middle School Teacher
Middle school is a fun and challenging age to be–and an even more challenging age to teach! I have taught grades K through 8, and I have found that middle schoolers are some of my favorites! Let me be honest… 7th graders, not quite my favorite—they are about 13 years old, and something just happens to them that is unexplainable. But 6th and 8th graders are full of such life and energy—you can’t help but have fun at work when surrounded by them. I am fortunate enough to teach 6th grade science at the school I went to 20 years ago. I’ve come full circle and had the unique opportunity of working with my own former teachers and learning from them in a new way.
Many people make remarks when they learn that I teach middle school such as, “God bless you!” and “How do you do it?” Here is the secret: 6th graders are a lot like kindergartners (except they typically don’t wet their pants). They start out the school year scared and eager to learn. They don’t know where things are, they don’t know how having multiple classes works and they are just lost in general—the new kids in a big new school. I find this age group to be especially rewarding to teach them.) I take that eagerness and harness it to help mold them into great students with habits that will help them for the rest of their school career.
I have always had good relationships with my students. I try to get on their level and understand them. I have heard from many students that they love my class because I, “teach them how to be a good person”—to me that is one of the most important pieces of the middle school curriculum. Middle schoolers are trying to find their way. They need guidance and direction, not just standards and assessments. I try to work into my curriculum lots of character education lessons (through Classroom Champions) to help them grow into successful people. We set goals and make plans for how to meet them. We learn how to become better people by not always thinking about ourselves but helping our community. We learn how to work in teams and be better at communicating. I also encourage my students to learn new study strategies that will help them throughout their schooling. I realize that telling them to study before a test has little effect if they don’t really know what it means to study. The combination of these things shows my students I care for their well-being, their whole person. I have high expectations of them, and they rarely let me down. For the most part, I do not have behavior problems in my class. We have a mutual respect and they know I value them. They do not wish to disappoint me.
As silly as it seems, some of my proudest moments are when my students tell me “Wow, class is over already? Why does this class go so quickly but math take so long…” Science is an area that I can do so many hands-on inquiry-based lessons, so that we are never sitting still very long. They are eager to learn new science concepts and especially excited to earn the sixth grade, “rite of passage” of dissecting a frog. Now that some of my former students have graduated it is fun (and difficult as it makes me feel a bit old) to see that many of them have chosen careers in the science track. Several have tracked me down to specifically tell me it is because of my class they are where they are now.
There are challenges to teaching middle school, but at the end of the day, they are kids who are learning how to become adults. We must forgive their silliness and be honest with them. Middle schoolers are a special kind of kid—one that should be dealt with delicately with lots of love, empathy and compassion. Remember, we were all that age once, too…
Kristina Jasmin is a 6th grade science teacher in Kissimmee , Florida. She is a participating Classroom Champions teacher.
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org) or any Responsibility.org member.*