I’d like to again thank Megan Jones, our most recent guest artist, for her excellent middle school teaching advice.  It is also rather timely, because just the other day, a sister of a friend was very interested in getting advice for her first student-teaching assignment. She is embarking on a second career, after 10 years in the bidness world. A lawyer, even.

What was Mr. T’s line? “I pity the fool.”

Not really. She had already started her student-teaching gig, and seemed to have a good handle on things so far. Still, she was looking for advice on how to handle the classroom management stuff, and she eagerly absorbed every bit of wisdom I had. (She patiently listened to me rant; it was, well, happy hour.)

I was giving her the Alpha Dog speech. (This one is from back in October 2008.)

Advice for Middle School Teachers

1. Be the Alpha. Middle schoolers in groups are, in many ways, like dogs in a pack; they are always looking for the Alpha, and there’s chaos if there isn’t one to be found. Or worse yet, one of the kids will assume the role. Remember, MS’ers crave structure (no matter how they protest that they don’t), and they hate the wishy-washy even as they take advantage of them. Don’t try to make them like you. They will anyway. Eventually. It’s sort of like how hostages sometimes fall in love with their captors after a long time. 😉

2. Learn the word NO, and use it frequently. (This one is sort of a corollary to #1.) To paraphrase Huck: “becuz (they) don’t give a dern for a thing ‘thout it’s tollable hard to git.” Where I teach, for some of the kids, this class is the first place anyone has told them no.

3. Don’t make it too easy. Their biggest fear is boredom, not challenge. Huck’s words are true for this one too. But, it shouldn’t be a macho thing, as we’ve all seen in some (ahem) high school (and above) teachers – “I always give lots of homework…every mistake lowers you one grade…I never give A’s…”

Challenge them, don’t beat them down. (Though you might feel like it sometimes.)

4. Enjoy it. The kids know when you’re phoning it in. You can’t do this job right if you don’t like it. If it’s just a job, quit now. Really. I always tell my students, “You’ll know when I don’t enjoy this any more, because I won’t be here.”

I don’t see that happening any time soon.