Middle School Teacher

A Guide For Middle School Teachers

July 10th, 2017

If you are a middle school teacher, you just may find yourself doing the happy dance when the last bell of the day rings. Teaching middle school can be a challenging assignment but despite the challenges, there are steps you can take to avoid counting the years and wishing for retirement.

Let’s suppose you are in a classroom where the students refuse to stop talking — even as you plead for silence. Some of the students are out of their seat and getting physical with others — you are exhausted from dealing with these issues period after period.

No learning is going on as you, regrettably, watch them throw things as they ignore you. Stunned by their behavior, you call the main office for help. You are frustrated and maybe a little afraid.

How can teachers prevent a scenario like this?

If you are willing to implement a few simple tips on the very first day of classes, you can sidestep many such problems and pave the way to a rewarding semester, in the bargain.

On the first day of school, brace yourself to take complete charge of your students. immediately. Give them a warm welcome, inform them of the seating arrangement (alphabetical is best), and let them know your expectations.

Occupy your students with all the first-day required forms that need filling out, have plenty of activities ready for them, keep them busy. Never allow for an idle moment — you can relax once you’ve gotten to know the students better.

If you are an inexperienced teacher or somewhat intimidated by the students, you are obligated to fake strength until you feel it. You must appear confident and in charge, and know what you will do every minute you are with your students. Be courteous, respectful, and FIRM.

Let the students know who is in control by exuding utter confidence. Taking charge and directing your class is the most important part of the strategy. There is no need to be heavy-handed — just be firm and consistent about what you will and will not tolerate.

You can be nice & friendly as long as you do not attempt to become a friend to your students. They need a teacher, not another friend.

Nine times out of ten, students respond favorably to a strong head-honcho-in-charge. It makes them feel secure in the classroom. They don’t feel threatened by peer pressure or peer “unpleasantness” if you show that you have a handle on things.

The best thing you can do for your middle school students is to make yourself the rock they can lean on and depend on.

Middle School Classroom Management – Behavior Action Plan

July 3rd, 2017

One of the most difficult skills to master as a teacher is classroom management. Unfortunately, if you can not master this skill you are not going to survive as a teacher, especially as a middle school teacher.

However, when the school year starts, many first-year middle school teachers are pleasantly surprised. All through their teacher training they were told how difficult classroom management at the middle school level can be and how important it is to have effective classroom management skills in order to be a successful teacher.

Yet, during the first days of school there doesn’t seem to be much of a problem…students seem fairly attentive, no one is really talking or passing notes, there certainly hasn’t been anyone talking back or any fights during the first few days…but then things start to change.

You see, those first few days are the honeymoon period…students are nervous and many are a little scared so they sit back and wait. However, by the end of the first week of school, or certainly by the second week of school, middle school students start to feel more comfortable, they start to test the teacher’s limits and classroom management becomes more and more difficult.

It is at this point that many teachers start to panic and immediately resort to various reward/punishment systems, or as Alfie Kohn refers to them…”carrot and stick” systems.

Unfortunately, these elaborate systems are a mistake. They provide only temporary solutions to an ongoing problem. Students who respond to the rewards begin to do their work and behave ONLY if a reward is involved, while at the same time many students who thrive on negative attention actually begin to seek out the punishment.

The better plan is the “proactive approach” to classroom management. The proactive approach is based on the premise that the best classroom management plan is a strong instructional plan…that the key to middle school classroom management is to keep all of your students actively involved in all of your lessons.

Unfortunately, there are times when teachers are still forced to REact. There are times when the teacher has used every proactive trick in the book and still a student does something that requires the teacher to react.

HOWEVER, just because a teacher must react to a situation does mean the teacher must punish the student. The teacher must still save punishment as a last resort only!

So, what’s a teacher to do?

Well here’s an idea…create a “behavior action plan”. Better yet, have the student create the “behavior action plan”.

The key to changing inappropriate student behavior is to have the *student* take responsibility for his actions. First, the student must identify the inappropriate behavior, and then determine why it is inappropriate, and finally, how he plans to stop the inappropriate behavior.

All the teacher needs to do is have the student complete a “behavior action plan”. The plan calls for the student to complete the following three statements:

1. I am writing this plan because I…

2. This behavior was not appropriate because…

3. To prevent this from happening again, I plan to…

Then, at the bottom of the handout make sure to have the student sign his or her name. By signing their name the student is making a promise to follow through with their plan.

In the end, this classroom management approach is significantly better than simply punishing the student for the misbehavior. This classroom management approach has long-term results.

Middle School: The Time for Parents to Step Away or Not?

June 25th, 2017

It’s not time to leave your child completely on his own yet when it comes to school.

Too often parents who have stayed at home or worked part time think that sixth or seventh grade is the time for them to start working full time. That’s a mistake! The switch to middle school is a big step-often even bigger than going to high school. Middle schools tend to be big-more than twice or even three times as big as the elementary schools that students are coming from. Kids feed in from sometimes as many as six or seven elementary schools. To top that off, instead of moving through the day with the same set of kids, most middle school kids regroup every period. A student is lucky to be in class with someone he knows much less a friend.

The curriculum really does get harder.

The content standards for early adolescence make a jump in the amount of critical thinking and problem solving required. The pace is relentlessas the emphasis is on getting through the whole list of standards rather than mastering a few key ones. At my school, when we looked at the 6th graders’ marks, they were lower first trimester than second and lower second than third. Even the best students wobbled a bit while adjusting to the change in academic expectations. Parents should know this and reassure their kids that they will figure out how to handle middle school work given time, but most schools don’t give parents that information.

Middle School teachers get “harder.”

The biggest change, however, is the mentality of middle school teachers. Unlike elementary school teachers who see their primary goal as encouraging self-esteem and a love of learning, junior high teachers lean towards focusing on kids accepting that a lot of life is about jumping through hoops and doing things in a certain way. Docking points for incorrect paper headings and throwing away papers with no names on them is common practice.

Students will complain their teachers are mean. We don’t see ourselves as mean. We see that we are the last stop before high school where kids can still get low grades with no consequence to their long-term future. We feel it is our job to teach what high school is going to be like before it counts towards graduation and college admissions. In 6th-8th grade, grading shifts from assessment of a student’s ability to an assessment of her performance. That means the student who has skated by on test scores and an occasional brilliant project is now going to learn that consistency and attention to detail are actually more highly valued. These are important skills to learn before high school.

It feels like parents are not wanted, but that is not true.

Parents often feel left out of the equation in middle school. Because their children might say they don’t want them there and because there is no room parent organizing volunteer activities, they feel unsure of how to be a part of school or, worse, they feel unwelcome. While it is true that you might not be asked to man math centers every week, it is not true that parents are not needed or wanted. Being involved at school in any way gives you a chance to stay connected with your child at time when his instinct is to shift toward his peers.

Even if you do not volunteer in your child’s class, by finding a volunteer job at school, you will hear more about what is going on. You will learn what clubs and activities are available to your child and will be able to encourage her at home to participate whether it is the joining the soccer team or signing up for the spelling bee. As you fold flyers or stuff envelopes, you will overhear gossip about which administrators are supportive and which are a waste of time to approach. You will learn the rational for the new homework policy and what teachers are doing to prepare kids for the state tests.

Middle school is a time for parents to step back, but not to step away.

Parents are still a child’s touchstone. They are still the best person to help a child process what she is experiencing. Getting grades based on percentages for the first time can be a real blow to the ego. A child’s sense of himself can be seriously shaken as he will associate his grade with how smart he is. A parent can help a lot by making the distinction between intelligence and following procedure and letting a child know that both are a part of being successful in life. Parents can continue to be there as a sounding board, but if in the past they have done most of the talking, it is time to develop deep listening skills. Asking your child, “What is your next step here?” might get you farther than, “Here’s what you should do.”

What does stepping back look like?

Stepping back might take the form of letting a child suffer the consequences of lost or incomplete homework without swooping in to defend the child. (Do continue to offer a lot of empathy that it feels awful to have worked hard on something and then not get credit for it because of one little mistake-like not putting your name on your paper or forgetting it on your desk at home.) Stepping back can mean not micro managing students’ projects but asking questions like, ‘What’s your plan for spreading out the work of the project?” or “Have you done your best work?” or “What part of this paper are you especially proud of?” When students get graded work back, instead of focusing on the grade, parents can ask, “What is your plan for doing better next time?” or “What resources do you have for getting help understanding this?” Above all parents can help their kids talk to adults at school not by doing the talking for them but by roleplaying how conversations with a teacher or administrator might go. In this way, a parent is still staying connected and supporting his child and at the same time allowing his child to stand on his own two feet.

These school years are the time for parents to stay connected and know what is going on, but it is also time for them to position themselves as guide rather than driver of their child’s life.