Partnering to Benefit Middle Schoolers
I began my career as a high school teacher. Twenty-five
years ago, I didn’t envision that I would become involved in primary and
elementary education. But having worked with these age groups in schools for
the past decade, I have come to truly appreciate all of the quirky
characteristics of K-8 students.
Recently, I have focused a great deal of my energy and outside reading on middle schoolers, carefully observing their day-to-day interactions while attempting to understand the unique way they see the world. Even after all of these years, there are times when their perspectives are still baffling! But I have grown to appreciate eleven-to-fourteen-year-olds more and more. After all, this is a time in their lives when their bodies are changing almost as fast as their minds. And of course, this is a good reason not to draw too much attention to their physical changes but instead emphasize their cognitive developments as much as possible.
As parents of middle schoolers will tell you, they are in a developmental stage when it becomes necessary to separate from their family. Unfortunately, this phase often happens when they could benefit most from the wise guidance offered by adults. This is one reason schools are so critical for middle schoolers. Teachers who can gain students’ respect and trust provide mentorship at a time when children are more reluctant to listen to and learn from their parents. Gifted middle school teachers create safe places while modeling thoughtful decision making for their students. Of course, to be successful in that role, teachers have to understand that middle schoolers are capable of having a serious discussion about Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost while simultaneously making crude jokes at a peer’s expense. In each of these moments, teachers have to take advantage of a whole range of qualities, knowing that students are “acting their age” even when their behavior is not consistent with the higher-level thinking of which they are capable. Gifted middle school teachers can also leverage the importance students place on what their peers think and do to create more healthy and supportive classroom norms.
With the right guidance, children can emerge from this tumultuous period with an understanding that they are not the center of their universe and with a greater awareness and empathy for others. For it is this change of perspectives that helps launch them into successful adolescence and adulthood, all with a little help from those who know them best.