After all my trials and tribulations in the job market, I managed to finagle a second interview. It’s scheduled for next Monday morning. If I get the job, I’ll be teaching 7th and 8th grade history to middle schoolers.

I’ve never taught middle schoolers. My student teaching has been a year’s worth of seniors’ government and sophomores’ world history.

My question to you is this: What’s the difference between those two classes of students?

I know that middle schoolers need far more breakdown of the period in terms of the number of activities. A normal one-period class should have three or four activities, I’ve heard, to account for a weaker attention span. I’ve also heard tell that it’s easier to put the fear of God into them. Nice.

That’s about it.

What, in general, are the accommodations I’d have to make for pubescent teenagers, rather than young not-quite-adults? Should I use the well-known Be Mean ’til Halloween advice, or balance that sort of strictness with a more lenient policy on late work?

If you’re thinking it, write in the comments instead.


  1. I teach one middle school class and three high school classes. I was terrified of middle school, because it was such a traumatic time in my life, but I actually love teaching it. Perosonally, I think the “don’t smile till x-mas” thing is really dependent on your personality and teaching style.

    I think the one thing I’ve learned they need are VERY CLEAR expectations and routines. They need them, they want them, and they want you to follow through on them. Even more than high school kids.

    On my first day of teaching them this year, I held up an example of a graph paper notebook, and told them that they should get one within the next week. Six hands shot in the air. The first three questions were:

    “Mr. Shah, does it have to be red?” (like the one I held up)
    “Mr. Shah, does it have to be spiral bound?” (like the one I held up)
    … and my favorite …
    “Mr. Shah, does it have to be from Staples?”

  2. Kathryn

    Middle schoolers experience hormonal chaos and asynchronous development. They are smart, opinionated, creative and still very childish. There are regular bouts of social upheaval as they sort out who they are and what image they want to project, especially as they approach transitions between grades or schools. They are acutely aware of their social and intellectual needs, but often lack the maturity to articulate their problems and/or compensate for them. And yes, there will be late work because they are notoriously disorganized. “Mean” is probably not a good policy, because some of them will disengage entirely either from fear or contempt. On the plus side, they are cleaver, witty, able to learn like sponges, and still interested in pleasing the teacher and having a good relationship with you (although not interested in admitting such in any public way.) You could have a lot of fun with this age group.

  3. Alex

    I teach Maths in England to (the equivalent of) grades 6, 8 and 10+… first year of it.

    I think the most important difference between grade 8 and the others is that grade 8 kids (especially the girls) have less confidence than any other year. Your classes’ success will rely hugely on bringing them out of their shells, and making them feel welcome and confident participating in class. Do that and the rest will follow.

    – Sam Shah’s plea for clear expectations is a must. One example would be, when you’re having a test, tell them what it’s for and how well you expect them to do (tailored to the students a little) – if it’s to test their memory of a topic they’ve done before, or if you expect low marks, they want to know this in advance.
    – Create routines and exploit them (i.e., deliberately break them from time to time… just as dy/dan will stop greeting a misbehaving class at the door) – these kids are very conscious of that
    – Praise them! More than you do already.
    – Adapt techniques you already use with (older) insecure students
    – Stretch them. Genuine achievement will always breed genuine confidence and pleasure.

    And finally… don’t be “nice” or “mean,” be pantomime. If you’re happy, let them know it (one time in a hundred, you can do a dance! Be funny!). If you’re a little miffed, let them know the world has ended with the tone of your voice and the look on your face. Come down hard, but on the action, not the offender (I DON’T TAKE WELL TO LATE WORK, CLASS while standing over Jimmy), then make sure to praise that kid for something good later.

    I find this is the age group where I can make the most notable difference to the pupils. Some of them really will blossom just because you’re pleased for them to contribute. Hope this helps.

  4. I taught middle school during my student teaching. One of the biggest lessons I learned is that they probably will need to have the option of late work, at least, in the school where I was. I had the policy that they could use 5 “free” days to turn in work late, either together or separate. (So if work was one day late, they use 1 free day).

    Eventually, I didn’t keep track of the number of days they used. But even so, many students didn’t attempt to do the work because they knew they had already used up all their days and were convinced I wouldn’t accept it.

    I think this policy could work if you want to have a late work policy, but it would help your students if on a one-on-one basis you could say, “you know, Jimmy, I think you should just do that assignment and turn it in and we’ll see what happens.”

    Or, a lot of teachers there had a policy that late work only gets half credit.

    I agree that they need a lot of structure. I tried to do a high school style writing workshop in 8th grade English. I got trampled. Should have started out with formulaic writing and moved into writing workshop later in the year.

    Good luck on the interview.

  5. I teach grade 8 American history. I really like the age-group. Everywhere I go people say “what a rough age….” But i’ve found they are less apathetic than the older kids. On the downside they are a lot more hyper and you need to adjust to that.

    In the beginning, they are constantly researching to see how you will react. So be sure your discipline plans are in order.

    I really work early on to emphasize and re-emphasize that there is no “inappropriate” talking. I always tell them “you can talk whenever you want, as long as you raise your hand and wait to be called on.” To temper this, I do a lot of “Take 45 seconds and with your partner answer the following question.” Then you circulate around and make sure they are on task. Center your plans around limiting inappropriate talking and keeping them on task.

    What works really well is using as many images as possible. We start each class with 3 political cartoons, mostly current events, some far side type things, and looking at those settles kids down and also allows me to check homework/do attendance and whatnot.

    I also have a “launch list” to begin each day, and this usually involves copying hw, getting their notebooks ready, having the right handouts for the day, copying objectives into their notebooks. They have to start that before the bell rings and while they finish the few tasks….

    Here is a link to my first day procedures, tell me what you think…..

  6. Tanya

    I have been substitute teaching middle school since February and will be teaching 8th grade science this fall. My mom has taught middle school for over 25 years and would not teach anything else. Here is what I have observed so far:

    1. Temper being “mean” with a sense of humor. Otherwise they will deliberately try to push your buttons.

    2. One of the most important concepts for me: the “Low Profile Re-direct”. In other words, if a student is talking out of turn, not working or causing a disturbance, go to the student and quietly address it with them. Repeatedly calling out a student in front of the class will backfire on you and the whole class will start taking the student’s side.

    3. Have a predictable order of business for class each day so there is no guesswork involved for the students. On the same note, having an organized classroom with specific places for missed work, turned in work, etc. makes things go more smoothly.

    4. My major pet peeves: gum in class, the pencil sharpener being used in the middle of class, and students showing up unprepared (no pen/pencil or paper). I’m working on my strategy for these two things for next year.

    5. When talking about middle school, there is a big difference between 6, 7 and 8 graders – each group has their own quirks.

    Good luck!

  7. dkzody

    Maybe I’ve been teaching in a middle school without knowing it! Tanya’s strategies sound just like the ones I use, except gum and pencil sharpening don’t bother me. As for no pen/pencil, that happens on a daily basis. I just keep a big tub of those somewhere in the room.

    One thing I liked about middle school–the parents are still in charge.

  8. Mr. Cochran: That PowerPoint hit the spot. Perfectly.

    To the rest: I love every single one of you. You are all marvelously helpful.

  9. A late voice:

    Provide structure. Oodles of it. Way more than you think they need, and then 10% extra, to be on the safe side.

    The most successful middle school teachers I know spend weeks at the beginning of the year just setting up their classroom expectations. I cut it down to one week’s worth this year, and have paid for it all year long.

    Don’t take anything for granted. I was stunned to find out that they didn’t automatically know that they weren’t allowed to talk to each other during tests. Or that they don’t only don’t bring a pencil to class, but assume that if they don’t bring one, that they don’t have to do any work.

    Middle school kids have short memories, and tons of hormones. They can be completely pissed at you one day, and be back the next like nothing ever happened. Girls will cry for no reason. Boys will get into fights. Your job in large part is to provide some stability so that the chaos that is going on in their heads and bodies doesn’t run away with them.

    My about to be revised for the 21st century basic rule list is here. I cover one or two of those categories every day for the first couple of weeks, practicing and going over both positive and negative examples for every one. They are written in “I” form so that, should a student violate one of the rules and claim that they’ve never heard them, they can copy them until they do remember them.

  10. scottyb

    I’ve been an 8th grade science teacher for almost 7yrs now. First of all, NEVER do the don’t smile until xmas (or other holiday). You will be miserable as well as your students. You want them to enjoy coming to class and learn to love the subject. Small thing that really helped me: keep a box of those small golf pencils. One box should last almost all year.

  11. Mr. Knauss: I will use these rules in my classroom. Marvelous.

    Mr. Beiter: Golf pencils — good idea. Wish I’d thought of it.

  12. >I will use these rules in my classroom.

    May I caution against picking them up wholesale?

    I developed the core of those after my first, painful, miserable year of teaching. That core was based on everything the drove *me* crazy that first year. I received lots of advice, most of which I tried, some of which ended up in there, and a lot of which was left on the cutting room floor. I have since had to add a bit to it, and this year, after switching to a new school, I will have to revise it heavily.

    It is a living document, based on my experiences of the previous year – continuously adapting based on my own buttons and abilities.

    By all means feel free to use it as a starting point. But you will find that some things don’t work for you, and there are other things that, based on your own personality as well as the nature of the students that you teach, are not covered by those rules but will be absolutely necessary for you to address.

    A note on golf pencils – a good thing to have, but i’ve learned to make a big deal out of it. Kids at my school will come to class expecting a pencil, and just toss it on the ground on the way out because they know they’ll get one the next day. I make a big deal out of getting something valuable in return: cell phone, keys, or shoe, and then letting them borrow a pencil that has been sharpened within an inch of its life, and which must be returned before they get their collateral back.

    I don’t believe in the don’t smile till christmas thing either. I do believe, though, that you can keep them off guard and guessing for the first couple of minutes, and then hit them with a smile and happy talk when they do guess the right thing on their own.

  13. Caution noted.

    I should note: Quite a lot of the rules and systems you have I’ve come to use already in my master teacher’s room. It’s just nice to see them typed out so prettily. Really, all this advice is what we need in a credential program.

    I’m keeping in mind the collateral idea. The students whose cell phones I have trouble with tend to be those who show up without a pencil — that’s what I call hitting two birds with one stone.

  14. T. C.

    I teach grades 6,7, and 8 English and it’s a blast!!! I love this age group because they are so unique in this stage of life. I, as most middle school teachers do, remember this awkward stage of life and get great joy trying to help it go smoothly for the kids of this age now.

    Mr. K’s expectations are awesome — in addition to similar expectations, I give every student 125 “Class Expectation” points at the beginning of each marking period. I subtract 5 points for each “infraction” of my expectations. This grade counts as 10% of the overall grade. This works great because the infractions are so adaptable…the third infraction in a class period results in a trip to the Student Responsibility Center.

    Good luck with your job pursuit!

  15. Right now, I’m busy brainstorming good lesson plan ideas. There’s a 10 min. lesson I have to do.

  16. That may be some inspirational stuff. Certainly not knew that opinions may well be this varied. Cheers for every single a single in the enthusiasm to provide you such definitely beneficial info in this post.

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