Middle School Teacher

The Middle School Brain: Yes, There Is One!

Being a middle school teacher holds special challenges in terms of management. Teaching middle school is not for sissies! I sometimes hear teachers brag “I never have any discipline issues in my room.” When I hear that, I know for sure that I’m not talking to a middle school teacher. It’s not that it’s impossible to get middle school kids to behave. It just takes much more energy and stamina than it does in most high school classes. One reason is that their brains are not developed enough to help them control their own dumb behaviors.

Patience is the #1 virtue when working with this age group. Their brains are crammed with too many synapses and connections that they don’t know how to adequately process. The immaturity of their thinking can quickly become tiresome. Drawing a penis and testicles is seen as hysterical and there’s no way to win when discussing Uranus- no matter how you pronounce it.

Boys show their interest in girls by throwing pencils at them or pushing them. Girls gossip about another girl nearby by whispering in each other’s ears while looking directly at the poor victim. Spitwads appear on your white board. Kids all drop their books at the same time. It’s exhausting just to watch, but since it’s going on while you’re trying to teach you have to constantly redirect their focus. But how? Here are some helpful suggestions:

Dishonesty: It’s common at this age to hear, “I didn’t do that. You always pick on me.” Or, “I didn’t copy off Susie. She copied off me.” The benefit of this age group is that in most cases, they’re poor liars, and it doesn’t take too much to get them to tell the truth in most situations just by talking with them.

Class Disruptions: These kids sometimes love to create disruption in the classroom. Their brains are very intrigued by, “I wonder what would happen if I….” It’s not usually malicious, just stupid. You can’t control what they throw at you but you always control how you respond to what they do. If you don’t respond in an entertaining way, they’ll lose interest. So what type of reaction should you show?

  • Your reaction needs to be as small as possible. The less the activity disrupts your instruction the less fun it is.
  • Stay calm and speak in a calm voice.
  • Take action quickly and decisively. NOTE: Your action might even be stating that you don’t want to take action right now but you will meet with the person directly after class.
  • Continue the lesson as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Pranks and practical jokes: Of course,April Fools is never a fun day for middle school teachers, but this kind of behavior is very typical for this age group throughout the year. Accept it. Many times you can ignore it. Dangerous or mean pranks, however, must be dealt with immediately. For example: Johnny pulls Jim’s chair out from under him. These behaviors can be seriously dangerous and you can bet that if Jim cracks his head, the parents won’t be suing Johnny. They’ll come looking for you. Explain the first day and frequently thereafter what constitutes respectful behavior. Be specific. Create several classroom situations and have the class determine if the behavior in the situation is acceptable or unacceptable and talk about why. You will have to continue to emphasize this the entire year. It’s tedious but necessary.

Noises: Oh, my! They drag their shoes to make them squeak. They open and close their desk lid or a door over and over. And somewhere around the age of 10, kids discover they can make incredible sounds using various parts of their bodies. This never seems to get old for them, and is consistently rewarded with giggles. from their peers. You need to be firm about noises, because they will absolutely drive you crazy with this if you don’t. However, downplay it as much as possible (see the suggestions above.)

It’s very difficult to determine which kid just belched so it has to be a class behavior discussion. This line usually worked for me. “I appreciate that you’ve learned a new skill but please refrain from practicing it during class.” If it continues, you may have to resort to “This half of the room will have to stay after class until we identify the musician.” Usually the offender will stop at this point. If this still continues to be a problem, move kids around on the seating chart. This may help isolate the little whipper. If you stay calm and don’t let this be a trigger button for you, if will settle down to just an occasional hassle.

One crucial concept to keep in mind is never demean or tell them how juvenile or stupid their behavior is. Even if they are acting like 3-year-olds, don’t say it out loud. They are very touchy and this will almost certainly make matters worse.

This is just the beginning of my discussion of the Middle School Brain. Check out my next article “The Middle School Brain: Why Are Boogers So Funny?”

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