Guest Artist: Advice for Teaching Middle School

Posted on August 28, 2010Filed Under Middle-L Listserv, Tips | Leave a Comment

Here’s another plug for the Middle-L e-mail listserv. As I have said before, I am a big fan. I have also previously posted some great op-ed pieces written by Marion Brady, who is a big contributor to the list. Go subscribe now, I’ll wait.

OK. This is an example of the kind of great stuff you can find on Middle-L. A new subscriber wrote asking for advice on teaching middle school. She was showered with great ideas. One of my fave responses came from Megan Jones. She has some great advice, that is so in line with my own philosophies of teaching junior high (sorry, middle school), that I had to reprint it here. Thanks, Megan. (Of course, being the know-it-all that I am, I have to offer my own commentary.)

I teach middle school language arts (grades 6 and 7) and absolutely love it! Middle schoolers are a tough, but rewarding group to work with.  Some tips that have been helpful for teaching Middle school age students (learned from other teachers and trial and error) are the following:
1. Be real and yourself: students at that age are extremely self conscious and a person who is comfortable with who they are is an excellent role model.  They can also smell fake and insincerity from a mile away so look for something positive in each one and be genuine with them.
She’s on the money here. They can also smell fear (see #5). Just like free throws, dogs and ground balls. Be the Alpha.
2. Have reasons for things: These students are hitting a point where they are a little tired of school and want to know WHY they need to do things. Reasons like “so you can go to college” are not good enough.  Link activities and work to life skills and the world.
God, I hated it when they said, “Because it’ll be on the test.” Or, “You just have to know this.” Or some such. I do like to emphasize that there is certain knowledge that is required of an educated person, just because, but here again, she’s money.
3.  Be firm in the beginning and back off later:  the first few weeks they are testing the boundaries so if you say you are going to do something FOLLOW THROUGH.  They want to know what the limits are and that you will enforce them even if they say otherwise.  If you start firm then you can back off and go to fun, but if you start fun and try to go firm, it will be agony for you and the students.
As I have said before, the first line in my sub plan is always, “Kick #ss and take names.” You have to show that you have teeth and will use them. A wolfmother cares for her pups, but she sure isn’t adverse to grabbing them by the scruff of their necks, and shaking a little. Be the Alpha.
4. Don’t be afraid of a little sarcasm:  So long as it’s not mean, this can be really helpful and fun.  I like to think of it as humor of higher order thinking.  Throw it out and see how many of them get it.  I always tell my students that they can be sarcastic to me, but they have to be prepared to take it from someone who is better and has more experience with it.
I think I have also posted along these lines. It’s a fine line, but it can be a lot of fun walking it.
5.  Be confident: Passion is very important so it’s good that you love what you are teaching.  That enthusiasm is contagious, but also be confident about what is going on in your classroom.  Even if you don’t feel you know something very well show your confidence and if they ask something you don’t know, tell them that you will look it up: make sure that you do.  (Even if
they don’t remember and never ask about it again, you still have the information for the next time you are asked)
This comes from experience and knowledge. You have to be careful with this one; as she said in #1, they can also smell fakies. You do have to really know your material. Don’t just try to “stay one day ahead of the kids.” You HAVE to know your shtuff.
6.  Take them seriously: Middle school drama can seem unreasonable to adults, but keep in mind that their hormones are going crazy.  Basically their emotions are like ours only amplified by 10 so anything can be a big deal for them.  Take the situation seriously and nip it down because an entire class can be thrown into chaos if you don’t.
True that. However, you also have to remember that they also have fairly short memories when it comes to said drama. By next Thursday, they will roll their eyes at you when you try to delicately bring up the matter.
Hope that helps a bit!  Middle School is absolutely delightful to teach, even if they can be a little exacerbating.  Have fun with them!
THAT’S the bottom line. If it isn’t fun, you shouldn’t be there.

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