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I never planned to teach middle school.
When I got my teaching degree, I was set on teaching high school English, but the only open position I found was in a middle school. So I took it, planning to move up as soon possible.
Well, I never looked back. Something about that age just got me. And over those years, I became kind of an expert on the idiosyncrasies of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. I figured out how to make the most of their special qualities. If you recently started teaching middle school, or you have a child this age, you’ve probably discovered these things, too:
1. They care more about the opinions of their peers than pretty much anything else.
This means they will sometimes do things that make no sense, like not turning in an assignment you know they worked hard on, because they just found out they will have to read it out loud in front of the class. Or refusing your offer of a chocolate milk, even though they love chocolate milk, because someone else is around who recently declared all chocolate milk to be babyish.
How to deal with it: See if you can make this quality work for you: Find the most confident kids in class, the ones everyone looks up to, and try to get them to take on a new project or help you lead the charge toward some endeavor you want everyone else on board for. If Josie the cool girl says she likes Shakespeare, others are more likely to follow. Also, know that socializing is a huge motivator for middle school kids. If you promise five minutes of talking time at the end of class in exchange for hard work the rest of the hour, you’re likely to get full cooperation.
2. They are horrified by what their bodies are doing.
For those of us who are well past adolescence, it’s easy to forget what it was like to deal with the constant betrayal that comes with a new body: There you are, going about your regular kid business, when one day your skin explodes with zits. Popping them turns out to make them even more noticeable. Or you’re sitting in third period, quietly suffering through some kid’s serious B.O. Escaping to fourth period, you discover the smell is there, too. After a quick check, you are struck with the devastating realization that the person with B.O. is YOU. Every couple of weeks, some new phenomenon introduces itself into the middle schooler’s physical life, threatening to destroy their social lives until high school graduation.
How to deal with it: Try not to call attention to their bodies; they would prefer that no one point out that their voices are changing, their feet are getting bigger, or worse, that they don’t seem to be growing at all. Also? If you’re trying to get a kid to do something public, like do a problem on the board or pass out a worksheet, and they really resist you? There’s probably a physical explanation, be it a boner, a suspected period leak, or the sudden discovery of a muffin top. If you get inexplicable resistance, back off. Don’t try to figure out the reason. Just move on to another kid. The one you let off the hook will be eternally grateful.
3. They trend toward hyperbole.
You say there’s a spider in the corner of a seventh grade classroom? Get ready for a wall-climbing, horror-movie-screaming, Armageddon-style wig-out. Did it just start snowing outside? Sit back and watch them all act like they never saw snow, complete with squeals and fist-pumps and fist-bumps and the whole gang rushing to the window! Wait — is someone crying in the bathroom at the dance? Observe as ten girls sprint through the gym, tugging each other’s arms, with faces that say this is the most important thing that has ever happened. Ever. Whether it’s due to limited life experience, hormones wreaking havoc on emotions, or the trying on of identities, young adolescents tend to exaggerate just a bit.
How to deal with it: Validate the real feelings behind these exaggerations while trying to re-frame their experiences in more realistic terms: “Yep, spiders can be scary. Let’s take care of this little guy so we can get back to work.” By describing problems in calm, rational language, you’re modeling the way a healthy person navigates life’s little surprises. And try to have a sense of humor: Instead of getting annoyed by this behavior, know that it will pass, and in a certain light, it’s actually kind of funny.
4. They are mortified by public praise.
Elementary school kids seem to delight in being recognized in front of their peers: Winning the perfect attendance award, student of the month, highest math score – all of these make them beam with pride. But pull a middle school kid up in front of his peers to wax poetic on his good qualities, and you may see that kid shrivel up like an old grape. I had a student once, a tough Bosnian guy who also happened to be a fantastic writer. One day while returning papers I called out, “If you want to see a really well written essay, take a look at Emir’s.” My thinking was that they would be all, Wow, if a cool guy like Emir writes well, then I want to do that, too. Nope! Emir looked at me like I just took his wallet. And for the rest of the year, he turned in crappy writing. It’s not that the praise was unwelcome, it was the public part he didn’t like. If I wanted him to keep writing well, I should have kept quiet about it.
How to deal with it: Definitely keep up the praise, but if you notice that a student doesn’t respond the way you’d hoped, it may be a sign that he’d prefer to hear it in private.
5. They can’t be trusted.
Just found out you’re pregnant and want to share it with a student you’re close to? Might as well put it in the morning announcements. Throwing a surprise party for another teacher and want to let your kids in on the secret? Consider the surprise ruined. Middle school kids may have every intention of keeping confidential information to themselves, but when an opportunity to share presents itself, they won’t be able to resist being the one who’s in the know. At this age, they don’t yet understand the consequences that can result from sharing something that’s not meant to be shared. What’s worse, they have a way of dropping all subtleties from the original message, so when you happen to say, “Mrs. Flowers’ class is a little more structured than mine,” it is passed on to Mrs. Flowers as “Ms. Gonzalez said you’re too strict.”
How to deal with it: Treat your middle school kids the same way you should treat the internet: Don’t share anything you aren’t willing to see broadcast in public.
6. They just now realized you are a human being. Wait…never mind.
As children move through Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, they go from being completely egocentric — perceiving themselves as the center of the universe — to being more aware of the existence of life outside their immediate surroundings. Right around age 11 or 12 is when people typically enter the final stage, formal operational, where they start to understand that others might experience the world differently than they do. But getting firmly into this stage takes time, and it’s a bumpy road. This means a couple of things: (1) They will be intensely interested in you, sometimes. They’ll ask all kinds of questions about your personal life, your family, the kind of food and music you like, and whether or not you cuss and drink outside of school hours. (2) Their awareness of other people’s needs is still patchy. On days when you’re not feeling well and ask them to just give you fifteen minutes of quiet at the end of a class period, they’ll agree, fully intending to help you out. Cut to five minutes later and your room is a fricking zoo.
How to deal with it: Enjoy the admiration and interest when you get it, but don’t be surprised if there are times when they forget you exist at all. That formal operational stage can be awfully slippery at first. And as for those super personal questions? Answer them within reason: In school you are a role model, a professional, and you are not their friend, so always give them the G-rated version of your life.
7. They are pulling away from their parents.
I can’t count the number of parents who told me their kids barely told them anything anymore, who said they had no idea what their kids’ school lives were like. Pulling away from parents is a normal part of adolescence. Although kids this age need adult guidance possibly more than at any other time in their lives, they have reached the point where their parents may be the last ones they’ll look to for it.
How to deal with it: As a trusted adult in their lives, you’re in a unique position to influence these kids and fill in the gaps that have been left by their self-imposed isolation from their own families, so remember to be the adult: Advise responsibly, model smart decision-making, and unless you suspect genuine abuse, avoid taking the child’s side over their parents’. You are in partnership with the student and their primary caregivers; be sure your students are always clear about that.
8. They are still kids.
One minute you’re having a deep philosophical discussion with them about the symbolism in a Robert Frost poem, they’re really getting it, and you can almost see them maturing right before your eyes. Ten minutes later they’re making armpit farts and asking if it’s okay to drink the water from the fish tank. And then there’s the wiggling — an almost unbearable amount of it, especially from the boys. The demonstrated maturity level of middle school kids is all over the map; changing from child to child and within each individual.
How to deal with it: Don’t expect mature behavior to last, and when childishness shows up, know that it’s normal – they are acting their age. Learn how to capitalize on it: Unlike high school kids, middle schoolers are much more enthusiastic about things like review games, and they are unbelievably willing to take a note to the office or hand out papers for you. The wiggling is normal, too — those bodies are growing like crazy, and with no more recess, there are few opportunities to burn off that energy. If you find that the wiggles are disrupting class, it’s a good sign that you haven’t built enough movement into your plans. Add that in and you should see more self-control when it’s absolutely necessary.
Most of the time, when I told someone I was a middle-school teacher I got the same basic reaction: They’d wince, or say whoa, and then add something along the lines of “Tough age.” And I would smile and nod, knowing that tough didn’t begin to cover it. One word could never quite capture the ridiculous, smelly, stubborn, fragile beauty of them all. ♥
When I was preparing teachers to work in middle school classrooms, we used Sara Davis Powell’s Introduction to Middle School as our textbook. I found it to be an approachable, comprehensive look at the most effective ways to teach this age group, from their emotional and social needs to their cognitive capabilities. If you are preparing middle school teachers, working with middle school students, or just want to know more about teaching this unique group, this would be an excellent resource. [This is an Amazon Affiliate link, which means if you click on it, then buy anything on Amazon, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you.]
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I am a jounior at Augusta University. My whole life I wanted to teach elementary school until I sat in on Orientation for the College of Education and the talk of middle school and teaching middle school really peaked my interest.
Coming across your article couldn’t have come at a better time. Just last night I was engaged in a conversation of a lady who taught for 24 yrs in middle School and recently switched to elementary school. This lady did almost everything she could to talk me OUT of teaching middle school and gave me negative after negative. I was baffled that this was the message she wanted to give, to a young eager aspiring teacher. She got to me I’d must admit which is why I went online to look for articles/blogs etc to get other opinions.
Thank you for this, it’s given me hope again.
Angelica, I have been teaching 29 years, 28 of it in grades 1-5. This year is my first year teaching 8th grade and I’ll never go back to elementary. I am not saying it’s easier – each has its ups and downs – but I am finding the very qualities that Jennifer writes about in the article to be thoroughly entertaining. It’s been a challenge (there were days in the first quarter I cried when I got home), but now by the third quarter I see that this is the right place for me. Good luck in your teaching career! Find the marigolds!
In Mississippi, 7th and 8th graders are the worst. They curse out teachers, they don’t listen in class, and everything is a joke to them. They act a fool at all times and they love to fight and get attention. There tests scores are so low that even a grave yard man couldn’t dig a hole lower enough to bury their grades in. Sooner or later, those kids will learn their lesson in life.
Harsh… that kinda scared me. I am a fifth grader, writing on why fifth grade should be in middle school.
Hey Larissa, I agree…that comment was definitely harsh. Not all middle school teachers feel this way about their students, I promise!
I subbed 6 yrs, all ages, & taught a yr HS, before deciding to take a full-time middle school contract. I’ve pretty much decided middle school teachers (much like kindergarten teachers—etc) are BORN, not made: threaten us w/high school or elementary, & we get the shakes, think the world is coming to an end..& all that middle school-like drama. OTOH, we have pretty good job security 🙂 b/c there is not a line around the block trying to get middle school teaching jobs. 20 yrs later, I’ve taught 3 different subjects & all grades 6-8. Of course it is tough some days ..& so is most anything that matters in life. Of course the kids can be “bad” & even “inventively evil” at times—which not only hurts others, but they end up hurting themselves in the process. Of course teachers more often than not are not supported enough by the parents, the admin. & the district or the community—it’s a hazard you have to accept, b/c you are accepting the child/student FIRST & all those others often are just “arrayed” around you trying to a different job than you are with the kids. Middle school teachers get the privilege of escorting these children through one of the most difficult times in their growth as a human being….second only to the first 2 years of life on Earth. They are leaving childhood & entering young adulthood. They are not learning to read, but reading to learn…they are trying to adopt academic language that will carry them through the next years of schooling, they are growing new bodies….they get new hormones. They are pushing every envelope & boundary possible in an effort to learn how to “govern” themselves. These are tall orders, & these kids are so small/young to have to take this all on & then, we expect them to be model students & scholars, too. I’ve enjoyed this age group’s ability to tell the unvarnished truth about themselves, other kids, the subsitute teacher, & even things about home life that you’d rather not hear. I love that they can appreciate a dumb joke or your straight-faced “play on words” over something…..whereas younger ones are not learned/mature enough yet & older ones are humorless when it comes to adults in their lives….I love that the majority of them are ready to try something new with you….even if they don’t finish (yes, this is a middle-school trait—they lose track of everything), but if you said to them one morning “Let’s all enter the Iditerad dog-sled race in Alaska!!!” 95% of their hands would go up to volunteer….. They are just “ready” for anything…which is the curse of middle school, & at the same time—the charm of middle school. The secret that I don’t tell my content-standards-toting admin/district/county/state about is that, MY FIRST STANDARD, which is not on any of their lists, is to help raise a decent human-being through this difficult stage of life.
I am in middle school and that comment was a bit to honest but its true. I may go to school in a very different state but even the kids here have bad grades and horrifying manners. I’ve been in 3 classes were the teacher quite because of how bad the kids are. The only goods things about middle school is meeting new people and new opportunists. To every smart kid, scip sixth grade its going to make you hate and I mean it when I say hate every other kid your age. im sorry but its true
Don’t worry 5th grader. Middle school can be hard, but you will make new friends and have fun. If you get stressed, take time to organize and breathe. You will do great in middle school!
OMG I am a middle schooler and I hate when you think you have a friend and they turn out to be a fake one!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
tbh im a 7th grader and 6 th graders and 7th graders go throught the most,they get more and worse made fun of,us 7th graders worry about things that no ones cares about,the thing is we worry about our bodys or what they a doing because like we think that we will get bodyshamed or made fun of much more,tbh ik some 5th graders have those kind of problems too,but i really hope someday my future child will be able to not get bullies or made fun of,because it would not only hurt him/her,it would hurt me too to seethem sad and to see them cry.i hope in the future kids will be nicer to others,because kids these days are bullying making fun out of people because its ^funny^ somehow
Thanks so much for taking the time to write in and share your insights. It breaks my heart to hear these things, but you sound like a very caring mature and emotionally intelligent person. The teen and pre-teen years are some of the most vulnerable – there are so many emotional and physical changes that many people your age have a really hard time dealing with. It can be very confusing. From my experience, I think that when people bully or make fun of others, it can somehow help them feel less self conscious about themselves and their own insecurities. I wonder how many people fully understand how hurtful their words and actions can be. You are a wonderful role model who anyone would be fortunate to know. I truly hope that people start doing better. We wish you the best!
Hi Emma, thank you for sharing this honest and heartfelt perspective. The middle school stage can be so challenging especially with the added stress of peer pressure and bullying. At this time, it’s important to discover who you are and what you like, want, and need in this life and not try to fit anybody else’s idea of what you should be. Know that each age of your life comes with new challenges, and trust that soon enough you’ll be focused on other, more important things. In the meantime, I hope you have a healthy way to express your feelings, whether through writing, music, physical activity, or whatever you find meaningful. Best wishes to you, and remember there are always adults out there who care.
Lol I am in 7th grade and honestly this article only defines what people think most middle schoolers are like because they are only paying attention to the kids who are the loudest,who stick out the most,idk the kids who are most popular. I know there are kids who love getting awards and don’t care about popularity and don’t like to get into drama. Honestly I don’t think a parent can shape a kid into having certin friends or having a certin style, you just have to ya know, accept who they are and accept them! <3 (btw sorry to affend anyone just giving advice)
Thanks so much for sharing, Meena!
My old school in 5th grade is in middle school
6th grade Science
Now that’s just really mean! I am a 7th grader nearing the end of my school year. If you don’t like us, then don’t be a 7th grade teacher at all!
I agree. There is no place in middle school for a teacher that feels that way. I went out of my way to seek out a middle school position. You’re not horrible, you are wonderful!
I agree. I am a 7th grader in the middle of my school year, and it’s not right for people to dis us like we’re little heathens. We actually do try to be good kids. I mean, yeah, there are rough days. There are always going to be though. If you can’t accept that, then no school will accept you.
YESSS PREACH SISTER
I’m a 6th grader and reading about teachers hating their kids makes me so uncomfortable. I love learning and enjoy my teachers. I don’t want to sound mean but seriously you should get fired or quit your job if you have the urge to write such awful things about 11-13 year-olds. We are KIDS!
Sorry to hear your experiences are so negative. Maybe middle school just isn’t the right age group for you to teach? Or perhaps your school district is not supportive enough? Also, not sure if it was just a typo, but you misspelled ‘there test scores.’ It’s difficult to take much stock in your opinion when you make such simple spelling errors!
I didn’t view it as negative at all. I felt it was funny and accurate. We’ve all been there (if we’re than middle school age) and we can all relate. I’d totally forgotten the awkwardness of these years because it’s just not something you remember for the most part until you relive it with your own kids or teach this age of student.
Previously I’ve taught elementary and am now in my third year as a middle school teacher and to be honest, this article sounded to me like an understanding but realistic, middle school teacher who wrote this.
Kids in this age range DO go through painfully awkward puberty issues and cope with mountains of embarrassing hormones. She didn’t write the article intending to shame middle school kids, but rather to explain how kids this age generally operate due to their cognitive function and brain behavior.
I doubt she considered that middle school kids would be reading it and picking it apart with their undeveloped brains (again, not a dis, just a fact) and taking it as an insult, again which it is not. I found it looking for ideas as to how better help my own students who struggle with the difficulties associated with this particular age. Middle school is hard. It was hard for me. It’s hard for everyone. But there are good aspects as well, and for some reason, students are finding it and thinking teachers are writing articles picking out their flaws. That’s not what’s occurring. Knowing why we do the things we do is helpful in dealing with behavior. That’s it.
You are definitely an ELAR teacher
It’s not just Mississippi. I’m a rising eighth grader in Pittsburgh and its just as bad here. I’m pretty sure it’s parts of everywhere if that makes sense. This article is super accurate lol (being one of those girls rushing to the bathroom to console someone haha)
Your attitude seems to prove that you’ll never do ANYTHING to change that fact. The only way to do anything about it is to change your mindset. Short of that, your complaining is pointless, and kind of ridiculous.
I disagree, Derek. Both my parents have been teachers for over 30 years across the USA and abroad. They’re both with foreign schools now and the difference is night and day. Teachers in the US get little, if any, respect, to say nothing of the freqent lack of support and oftentimes overwhelming administrative workloads. They’re cross-examined by everyone–from students to parents to administrators to Joanne Public who knows next to nothing about education or the subject she’s criticizing teachers for teaching poorly. And they’re frequently the recipients of ongoing ridicule and harassment, powerless to do anything about it if school administrators tie their hands to placate often unreasonable parents. All this for what in more and more jurisdictions is a career that requires a graduate degree, years of experience, and continuing education that’s often never reimbursed and doesn’t bring higher pay (further graduate study…).
Just because someone complains about something doesn’t mean her/his attitude needs adjusting. Research in psychology discloses that humans tend to be unjustifiably positive–the “positivity bias”–even when there’s significant objective evidence to warrant a negative view. Your experiences may differ from other teachers’, but that doesn’t discount the growing angst among teachers driving the high attrition rates in the profession.
I am in 6th grade and I even see it now at my school. I totally agree with you!
I’m going into 7th grade next year :p. Don’t talk negatively towards a specific audience, please! It makes me (and likely others) feel targeted and horrible. 😕
I absolutely agree
OMG thank you for saying that! I am a 6th grader and I was horrified by all of the rude reviews. This article was totally false. I love to get praised by people, drama sucks, my mom means the world to me, and I love school. Yes I do care about what my friends think but doesn’t everyone?
This is true… but as a middle schooler myself I know that these things are true for MOST middle schoolers. Being a mature GT student, I am one of the people who is the opposite of some of these things. But every human is different, and I can see why teachers say that we are like this. Also I HATE DRAMA TOO!!!
It wasn’t intended to hurt you they were just sharing their thoughts just as you are.
That’s really harsh man, ima 8th grader almost going to highschool and I agree we can be very annoying and disrupting and sometimes obnoxious but still, we try our best and we try and make our teachers proud(even sometimes it doesn’t seem so). I see this stuff in my middle school all the time it’s not just Mississippi, but still, we are also human beings we still have things happening in our lives some good some bad. So yeah, we can be little devils sometimes but at the end of the day we’re just middle schoolers, so what?
That is a very harsh comment and your students cannot be as rude as you’re saying. I’m a 6th grade English teacher and like you, Jennifer, I never thought I’d end up teaching middle school. This is my 5th-year teacher in middle school and so far I’ve taught 2 years in 8th grade, 2 years, and 7th grade, and this is my first in 6th grade. I always thought I’d end up teaching Elementary school, but I wound up in middle school!
When we weren’t online, my students were so sweet and knew when I was having a bad day and made sure they were on their best behavior. There are obviously some students who act out, but most of the time, there aren’t too many trouble-makers.
Mrs. James, maybe your student’s test scores are so low because you’re not explaining something to them correctly. They’re not understanding what you’re explaining, so they’re obviously not going to get very good grades on those tests.
I wish I had a teacher like you.
Bulls eye. I teach 7th grade life sciences, inner-city. Your words and article has been the closet thing to words being able to describe them. You capture somethIng I’ve felt but haven’t been able to describe; there is a beauty to it all hidden below the surface…some sort of deeply fulfilling purpose when you see one of them become better and grow as a human being…At the same time, pretty much every week has a day or a few where it’s a battlefield.
I am a 6th grader. I’d say I’m like the complete opposite of this. I feel like I’m pretty mature I treat others how I want to be treated. I accept criticism. I have self-control. I have a respect for others opinions. I am open-minded. I am a great listener. I take advice. I am trying to work on my self-confidence. I am not grossed out about puberty it’s just a part of life. I hit puberty early so maybe that’s why I am not grossed out about periods or anything really. I set goals for myself like workout 30 mins, study for an hour. I feel like I am respectful to others. I use my manners. I am helpful to others.
Hi Isabella — Thanks so much for sharing! These generalizations may help teachers as they build relationships and empathize with middle school kids, but this is such a great reminder that they don’t apply to everyone. In fact, Jenn revised the title not too long ago to “…(Most) Middle School Kids” for this very reason. Thanks again!
Yeah not all middle schoolers are bad we really do try out best I totally agree with you.
Thank you for your devotion and dedication to your student s. In middleschool children are growing and experiencing so many emotional and hormonal changes. I praise you for your ability to understand this difficult awkward time in their lives. Again thank you from a mother of 3.
Very helpful. I enjoyed reading this article.
I am in 7th grade and I really dont see this in my school.
I agree with you!
You are on the money! I have been in middle school for 28 years, and times have not changed. You have to love them. Your observations and suggestions are great for anyone teaching middle school.
Yes yes yes! Starting year 25 of middle school! I love that I never know what to expect- gives me a lot to think and weite about, too!
25 years! Congrats!
Spot on! It’s a darn good thing some of us adore this wiggling, hyperbolic, wiggling bag of contradictions! A friend always says, “Middle schoolers are Brussels sprouts: you either love them or you don’t!”
Wow, isn’t that the truth, Shelley? When I get around the primary grades, I want to tear my hair out. Give me a room full of 13-year-olds any day. (And I know primary teachers feel exactly the opposite!) It’s a good thing we get to pick our age group, huh?
I’m just teaching middle school again this year! So excited! Really great read! Loved it!
I agree wholeheartedly! I started 15 years ago teaching middle schoolers, and two years later got moved to teaching high school due to my content knowledge. As much as I loved my high school students, they never exhibited that love for learning new things that I saw in my middle schoolers. This year, I finally am back to 7th grade, and I couldn’t be happier!
Great article! I volunteer for the middle school youth group at my church, and you’ve got this age group PEGGED! You’ve got some very helpful tips for how to handle things. Thanks!
Thanks from a first year sixth grade teacher! I love middle school, they are smart, more independent and constantly changing!
thanks jen that one part about people acting like don’t exist part realy helped
I’m a middle-schooler myself and I agree with a lot on here.
I’m a middle school student,and there is a lot of kids who are like this.IT’S A JUNGLE OUT THERE!!!!!
Actually its not a jungle because there are no monkeys and no trees.
This article is SUPER true 98% true; i should know; i am a middle schooler
As a middle schooler, I tend to agree! Another thing I’d say is that they, or rather, we, often have trouble transitioning from rote memorization and step-by-step directions to critical thinking and ALOT of independence. Ugh. Middle school is tough.
Great observations and advice!! A+
Not sure about the attention thing round the rural parts, kids from single parent or no parent families can’t get enough. As for wiggling, I could put a corsage on my chairs and have a full on dance for most of the boys!
This is discrimination to all teenagers. You are grouping them with the bad people to make other lazy parents feel like they are doing the right thing. Stop disrespecting people by thinking you know what goes on.
Hi Ben. This article is based on my experience as a middle school teacher. I absolutely love middle school students and I have found that some people who teach this age group really misunderstand some of the behaviors that are typical at this age; this causes them to treat MS students inappropriately. My goal here was to help more MS teachers have a better understanding.
With that said, I will admit that these are broad generalizations that don’t necessarily apply to all people in this age group. Which items here did you find to be discriminatory?
you sound like a walnut tree to me.
Wow, no need to resort to name-calling. You don’t have to agree with everything you read, but you should comment with more respect than that.
Perhaps you should reconsider the tone of this article. Clearly it’s written with caring and understanding. Additionally, she’s very careful, unlike you, to not lump all teenagers into any one category. The entire article is predicated on the understanding that teens are NOT one size fits all. As for disrespect, your response has earned you that label. You sound petulant.
Thank you so much for this article…it was very informative. I teach pull-out special education 3rd through 6th-grade students; I have the incredible opportunity to see them grow from enthusiastic primary students to dubious middle schoolers.
I too planned on teaching High School only; no way would I teach mid school. 14 years of teaching (10, 15 year break, back at it for 4) that’s all I’ve taught, I love them! all your insights were right on. One I like to add is that at this level I’ve had many students smarter than me but they didn’t know it yet; very fun to watch them. Now I have former student’s children, parent / teacher night it’s great to hear from them. I just discovered this sight & love it! Thank you.
Your tips are amazing and so darn TRUE!! Thank you for making my new experience in the United States as a teacher more enriching and engaging. Your videos and ideas are truly amazing. I recently subscribed and I am looking forward to using as many, if not ALL of your suggestions and insights. Thank you!!
Keep up the great work!!
My son just started sixth grade and I stumbled upon this. So true! This also helps me relax a bit and not worry – too much.
One thing you failed to mention that is horrible .. and horribly obvious.. .. the most salient thing of all. .. that when herding they are incredibly noisy.. when in the hallway of a middle school during lunch or class change time.. be prepared to experience noise levels akin to the take off of a 747. ….
Thank you for starting my day off with a grin! I’ve been teaching middle school science since 1978 and the statement I get the most often is “Wow, haven’t kids changed so much?”. I don’t think so. They still amaze me. They want you to set the bar high and want you to recognize when they smash through it. They want you to be silly, serious and caring while they try out their new wings. Very simply, I’m so happy they let me take a small piece of their joy with me when I leave at the end of the day.
I am a middle school student myself (the reason I’m on this article is a bit of a long story that includes a self-assigned essay) and I agree with most of these points. I do admit that I frowned a bit at the ‘middle schoolers can’t be trusted’ bit, but after finishing the article, I realised that’s true. And the public praise thing seems pretty accurate as well, though it depends on person to person. And, yeah, I tend to exaggerate a bit, and perhaps care more than I should about my peers’ opinions, and, yes, the people in my school are naturally immature. I mean, seriously. You can’t get pass a school day without someone meowing, or go to science class without somebody saying: “it’s magic!” or even spend a S.S period without somebody jumping on a table a singing. Sigh. I suppose they’ll grow up someday. (Also, I just realised how self-centred that sounded, almost as if I’m implying that I’m /so/ much more mature and sophisticated than my peers. Double sigh. No human can escape narcissism, huh?)
I have an 11 year old daughter in the sixth grade and this is SO spot on!! In the 5th grade, she was always the one who volunteered to do performances or gives presentations at assemblies. This year, not so much. When I asked why, she said, “because I didn’t want to hear people say good job”. At the time, this made ZERO sense to me, but after reading this article, I have a little more insight into what is going on in her little mind. #3 is also hilarious and oh so true; the exaggerations are never-ending!!
The eccentric attributes of Middle School age students is an interesting culmination unlike any other. I wouldn’t want to teach any other age. Thanks for the article.
I’ve taught middle school for many years, and your article made me laugh out loud! I’ve seen so many of the same behaviors, and learn so many of the same things, it’s nice to know someone else has had the same experience. Well written article!
Thank you for your advice! I’m about to transition into a middle school position and needed insight on the age I’m soon to teach. Thanks!
As a highschool freshman a little above a quarter way into the year, this is really accurate, especially for seventh graders in the behavior and sixth in the “discovering new stuff about their bodies everyday” aspects. Eighth graders tend to not care about anything in class until they pick what classes they need to take.
Thanks a million. I’m a 3rd year teacher, and while I feel it’s getting easier, some days are still SOOOO hard. I teach 5th-8th grade in a tiny private religious school. Today was one of those, “I can’t do this anymore” days, but in my helplessness, I decided to just read up on some ways to get better instead of feeling like I’m not enough. Thanks for sharing your wisdom– your findings are entirely relatable, and your “how to deal with it” solutions will be so helpful.
I’m so glad to hear it, Kathleen!!
I don’t mean to be mean while writing this comment.
I am 12, a 7th grader, and a girl(just in case you can’t tell lol) and the title of this caught my eye because I am usually nothing like the other kids my age. While I read this I found that I did not relate to 1, 3, 5, 6, and kind of not 7, but usually, I don’t tell my parents anything unless it’s important, and 8.
So that’s why the title caught my eye because I knew it would most likely not be accurate according to me. This article is awesome because it relates to most middle schoolers, but I have a suggestion. For some people, like me for example, most of this will not be accurate, so if you make an article relating to this then you should make the title “8 things I know for sure about (MOST) middle school kids”.
I’m pretty sure you’re an adult so I’m not too concerned, but I promise I do not mean to make you feel bad or look bad. Thank you and have a good day.
Thanks so much for writing in and sharing this. I have made the change you suggested, and it did not bother me in the least!
I am contemplating teaching middle school. I have been teaching elementary for 10yrs. I love the introspective nature of many middle school teachers, the astute wit and humor of middle school teachers, teaching one subject and the ability to go in depth w/ the subject, investing in the socio-emotional lives of a misunderstood, vulnerable, fragile, coming into their power and independence population. Thank you for this article!!!! Your love, wisdom and truthfulness about this age is so helpful. I intend on reading Introduction to Middle School.
You’re so welcome, Rosemary! It sounds like you really have a heart for this age group. I’d say definitely go for it. 🙂
Yes, yes, yes! Many are SO much wiser than their years, and so ready to grapple with big questions. Take the leap!
Just came across the article in 2018 because I’m preparing to write another book for this age group and I need to understand how this age group thinks and behave. I studied Elementary Education but Id like to write books for this age group. Your information was incredibly helpful and gave me many ideas for my next book. Thank you!
I am retiring this year after 46 years of teaching, most of it with 6th graders in a 6-8 middle school. I have seen or experienced everything you have written about. Around here we may call them hormones in sneakers, given the speed with which their moods can change. I have enjoyed my run, I think interacting with the kids has kept me feeling young; but it is definitely time to let others take this over. You definitely have to want to work with this age level if you’re going to enjoy yourself and stick with it.
Thanks for this post! I’m making the transition to 8th grade after 6 years of teaching high schoolers.
I know it will be tough, but it’s wonderful to hear a voice expressing the positives!
Most of these seem accurate cause I’m about to hit 7th grade but am still in sixth grade. The one that is gladly not true for me is the parent one. I am really close with my parents! I hate staying away from them for to long.
This is very helpful to me. I’ve taught many high school classes, and many home schoolers, but this is my second year teaching Latin to MS students, and I’m finding it the toughest demographic so far. The 7-8 grade boys, and the 6th grade girls (in my classes anyway) seem to have no concept of respect, and they can wear me down. Boys generally talk non-stop, and girls look at me as though I were some vermin. The 7-8 graders need to learn a lot of vocab, and I’ve put together a list of it all, but I can’t see giving it out, because it’s just too much for their attention spans. I’ll keep at it. But it seems like a young person’s game.
Glad you found this helpful! Having some validation and a bit more insight goes a long way. If you haven’t already seen these posts, you might want to check them out as well: When Students Won’t Stop Talking and Are You Sabotaging Your Classroom Management? Both of these articles offer some practical strategies that can be implemented right away.
I HEAR YOU! But it is any person’s game. They tend to want relationship-building. What about letting them journal for 5 minutes once a week, reading your own entry, and having them read theirs? 10 minutes total, but they may look forward to it, and you will know something new about them. Can start off as general as, “Tell me 5 things this week that made you think, smile or laugh,” or more specific like, “Which would you rather….” Especially if you read and write an honest (but appropriate) journal entry, it may really bring a connection. Good luck! Don’t give up! They really are awesome once you get to know them (well, 98% of them, anyway.)
Wondering if the subject you’re trying to teach them could be a part of it. Not sure how many schools still teach it. None in our area seem to be.
Do they need to take it as part of their graduation credits and/or college plans? It was offered when I was in school -eons ago- and I had no desire to put myself through it. Partly because I’d be expected to speak it aloud and didn’t want to be made fun of. But mostly because I saw nothing in my future that would require it. So had it been a requirement instead of an elective, I would have put forth half-hearted effort and had mostly slept or written stories in the class. I was never one to cause trouble. I had a few teachers, back then, who didn’t deserve respect, but unlike my classmates, I just got through the day/year, and didn’t add to their problems.
If there can be found ways of making this subject interesting and exciting for them, possibly their attitude would change, making the days more productive for you and them. Just a thought. 🙂
Fantastic article!! Everything in it is so true, the spider and snow reaction is right on point.
Thank you for giving the how to handle it notes, definitely helpful.
Great article, but i could add one more — giggling, especially by the boys. Anything can set it off! 😊
Not anything. Silent jokes. The teachers never hear it, but the kids will go sub sound with their jokes 😂
This was hilarious and a great reminder, especially, “Cut to 5 minutes later, and your room is a frickin zoo.” They MEAN to do better. They often just have absolutely no self-control beyond 2 minutes.
I would also add, Middle-schoolers will do anything. They will eat 5 packets of hot sauce at 8am, and they will shock you change from sitting passively, not doing any work on their own when you leave their side, to barreling through a multi-step research project and being the first one to finish it–who knows why! When a prospective boss asked me, “Why middle school?” I gave this answer–“They will do anything.” Without missing a beat, she said, “Yes, they will.” It was the first question of the interview, and I think it was when she decided to give me the job.
I love this article! And of course sharing it right now is perfect, because for middle schoolers Spring is a real thing. It is also making me a little sad because I am moving from my 4 years of teaching 6th grade in an elementary setting to teaching 3rd grade. I look forward to many things about 3rd, but there is a big part of me that really gets and feeds off of the irreverence that middle schoolers have. That irreverence is a lot of what enables them to be so intellectually open. Because they are so wacky (that’s a high compliment from me) it allows (demands?) that I be a little wacky as well. I’m a little worried that I’ll be inappropriate next year because starting in 6th has shaped me. Thanks for reminding me why I love them!
This pretty much covers it. The most important thing to remember when working with middle schooler is that your ability to laugh at yourself goes a long way. There are challenges, sure, but it is work worth doing.
Teaching 7th grade is like strapping into a roller coaster every day. The highs can make you smile and love your job and the lows can make you cry, but the ride is usually worth it!
Or you can have the monstrous students that make some teachers throw staplers… My school was a jungle but even worse.
Right on the money, Jen! I chose the level for the past 28 years. Core French, Art, Tech and Health: if you can add an active lesson into the mix—drawing outdoors, walks and talks, free minutes earned against hard work, and more, they do cooperate. I found too, they respond well, if noisily, when doing group work. BUT! I found a beautiful way to do some quiet quizzes, “en groupes”: a fun, M/C, T/F, fill in the blanks test for almost any subject…kids gather around a table, or floor area, with their group members; I pose a question, one student answers on paper, the passes the paper to the right. In turn, each answers a question, always passing, never speaking. And yet, they are permitted animated touching of the paper by peers, expressions through eyes and faces, head shaking, just no talking.. Remeber: their antics are for their own team; they don’t want to let others see the answers. If you can follow what I’m saying, imagine a happy, face-making, competitive, cooperative space. And hyper quiet! Not done often, but enjoyed each time! They loved the challenge, too. Thanks. Great words, Jen! No surprise the middle school muddlers agree with you 🙂
Thanks so much for sharing, Heidi!
You got alot of this wrong. I am currently in 7th grade, and am quite sure that school has changed a lot since you were in school I admire the effort, but to improve this, I will explain what is wrong and what is right. 1. Most don’t. While we do think its important but we also believe in the importance of other things such as fun and school work. 2.Nope. Just straight nope. We make jokes about it and are just pretty eh about it. We really just don’t care because of all the lectures. 3. Kinda. We are a little over dramatic, but we aren’t dumb. Of it snows, well I live in Arizona phoenix so yeahwe would freak out, but if a girls crying its mostly are you ok or not a bit of care. And a spider will get an oh from a person and a stomp. 4. No we aren’t. That’s the opposite of what yousaid in the first point. We just feel kind of awkward for a sec and then revel in it for a hot minute. 5. Sort of. Some people are completely annoying about it. But most people are incredibly trustworthy. 6. Kinda, we all know we arent the center of the world but we are kind of moral monsters sometimes. 7. Yeah a lot of kids but some will still stay close to their parents. Kinda depends how much they like or understand their parents. Like I love my parents and are still close because I understand I’m a handful and a half. 8. Yep. Completely right.
But anyway, it is interesting but mostly wrong. I know its been 4 years but I feel like people should be informed anyways.
Oh and some kids have sever depression and suicidal tendencies because of the pressure from school and life. Its really horrible when I have to talk classmates out of suicide
Thanks so much for sharing your perspective here. I will admit, these are generalizations. It has been DECADES since I was in school, but I was a middle school teacher not too long ago and have my own middle schoolers right here in my house, so I know some of it still fits. Regardless, it may not fit you and the people you know, so I appreciate you taking the time to remind us that you are all individuals.
So I’m an eighth grader trying to write an essay about sixth grade, and I can say that all of this stuff is 100% correct.
its good just add fortnite in the article and it would make it 10 times better
PUBG is better
Hi Pam–I work for Cult of Pedagogy, but I’m responding as a substitute. You are so right. Right now it’s Fortnite, apparently PUBG is breaking through, and who knows what will be next. This article was actually written pre-Fortnite (2014), but I love comments like yours because it keeps it [more specifically] relevant.
Thank you for this article! I taught ELL in middle school for a year of my 25 years as a teacher and I enjoyed it. Next year, I’m planning to be an assistant principal in a middle school. What do you all recommend are great ideas to explore when it comes to empowering our middle schoolers? What leadership skills do you wish your principal or AP had that could have brought the best in you as a middle school teacher?
Hi Marissa! Congratulations on your changing role! To answer your question about empowering students, I tried to look at it from an administrative perspective, but some of these suggestions may still be good to pass along to teachers:
—Creating a Welcoming Classroom for Students with Special Needs
—How Dialogue Journals Build Teacher-Student Relationships
—Is Your Classroom Academically Safe?
—The Trouble with “Amazing”: Giving Praise that Matters
Now, for a personal answer: I spent just a small amount of time teaching middle school, and I did not feel supported at all. One of the biggest faults was the “mentor program”–I was assigned a mentor and he never spoke to me. Well, he said hi once when we were awkwardly in the copy room at the same time. But my administration did not do anything to make sure teachers were getting the help we need. Saying, “Let me know if you need anything!” as you run to your next task is just not what I needed. So, with that in mind, here are a few more articles:
—What Teachers Want You to Know: A Note to School Administrators
—When a Principal Whips and Nae Naes
—How Pineapple Charts Revolutionize Professional Development
I’m going to be in sixth grade and I am very excited but I am scared that my friends will be changed and not want to hangout out with me anymore any advice 😆
Hi Kayla! How exciting! But I understand being nervous. Middle school makes everybody nervous, so your friends might be wondering the same thing! I found this article with advice written by a girl who is going into 7th grade, so I hope it helps! Good luck!
Middle School changes everyone. You will lose some friends, keep some, and make many more.
I am a middle schooler, and even though I am not a teacher I can definitely agree to all of these points. However, when I was reading the comments, a lot of middle schoolers have said that it offended them or whatever, but it’s simply the truth.
I am a 7th Grader and I was wondering if u could give me tips on developing respect, responsibility, and behavior. Thanks
Good to hear from you! Teens go through lots of changes socially, emotionally, and physically and sometimes it can feel really hard managing everything. Here’s a resource that covers a whole lot of stuff. I think it could be a good place to start. Check it out and see what’s helpful: Seth Perler’s videos made especially for students
I’m a parent of a middle school student, I really enjoyed your article and the valuable insights you have about this age group. Thank you!
Hi my name is Naisha I 6th student I like to learn more about what I going to learn in my life time in I like to learn more about sister and my teachers Gleen’ns maya she always tell me the right way so try to me naisha
It’s great to hear from you! It sounds like you enjoy school and learning. Thanks for sharing!
I’m a elementary school English language arts mistress. I also agree with you. I thought I had it bad dealing with the second and third grade kids but now I have changed my mind. I love my job though. I’m considering starting at a middle school next year.
as a middle schooler in the cities I can just say umm no to this I mean the secret thing was right most of us do want to keep secrets but mostly spill them to our friends while actually it depends on the situation there is one thing I know for sure your kid is not what they seem i barley tell the truth to my dad cause like awkward and he wouldn’t get it all my friends are like tottaly different in front of their parents and yes bad things happen in middle school at least in mine its a lot more intense than you might know i have friends cutting doing drugs and sending nudes your kids is almost definitely a different person around their friends just be there for us and understand that you DONT get what where going through its a different time but also understand that in this subject we might know more than you because where living the situation your trying to understand so give us some space
We really appreciate you sharing your perspective!
Ok you have written from an adult’s point of view as if they are a specimen to study. But have you been in a deep one on one chat with one of them?
It’s not easy to be in seventh grade. Firstly you have to deal with hormonal havoc and those don’t just impact the bodies but minds too. We adults are already in wreck every cycle although we’ve been through tens or hundreds of mentruation days. But those 7th graders are experiencing something so new and untaught at schools curriculum that well.
They become more self aware, more conscious about their public status and more extreme emotionally, mentally. They need utmost care and most importantly understanding people around them. Most of the things you stated are right and so there’s a burning requisite to provide them with a positive supportive environment so they can transition into better adults. They’ll open up to adults more if the adults/guardians tend accept and listen to them without being judgemental.
I seriously agree with the last statement. And with the rest of the stuff, it can be applied to 6-8th graders.
Btw, I’m a 8th grader.
Thank you to all Middle School Teachers. You make life differences with our students and never get the credit you deserve. The largest impact on our students lives is in the Middle. They are seeking adult role models other than their parents. I have been at all levels. Elementary students are not mature enough to understand meaningful conversations you have with them. High School students feel they know everything but want to be heard. Middle School students are trying to find themselves. That is why Middle School teachers have the largest responsibility to not only teach academics but they need to teach about life. Thank you Middle School Teachers!
Not a teacher but this article gave me a better understanding of what my 11 year old daughter is going through. It’s been tough raising 2 girls alone as a single dad. Thank you for sharing.
Wow. I had no idea this is how middle school kids are. It was harsh, but the truth hurts. It was a very good, interesting article to read, and now I’m going to go and appreciate my teachers a little more for what they do so that they don’t see me as this.
Hey Isabella, thanks for commenting! I just wanted to let you know that Jenn loves middle school students and her goal in writing this post was to help teachers understand how to relate to them better, not to point out ways they need to change. A lot of what she says is just a normal part of how kids grow and develop. I think it’s good to keep on being you. Enjoy being a middle schooler while you are one!
I’m in the 7th grade and I think this article is spot on. Many of us kids think this way, but many don’t really care what others think about them and so look out for those kind of kids and know that they will give you the full attention. Even if I think I might need some help, next year is can learn from this and do the very best, and hope you gals/guys do great in your teaching career. PS(if you have prizes like candy or something then that can really get thier attention.)
You put what I always say about my students in funny and clear words. Thanks! 😀
I have been teaching middle school for 15 years. I love this age so much, I feel like I was born to teach them. However, we have our tough days. This post is such a great reminder about the ins and outs of these years.
I try hard not to describe them as “in-between” years, because while we know as adults they are a period of transition, to the kids – it’s their life! It’s a time with it’s unique set of issues, as addressed.
Thanks for this great post!
Glad you enjoyed the post, Sarah. Thanks for sharing your insight!
Wow! As a parent of a 14 year old boy I don’t think I have ever read an article that describes my son any better.
I just wanted to say thanks to you and all the other brave, middle school, teachers out there for educating and helping us raise our insane teenagers.
Over 30 years working with Middle Schoolers, I agree 100% with all but 5. They can’t be trusted. I have found they are a lot more trustworthy than High Schoolers. I’m not sure where your coming from when you say they cant be trusted, Because I’ve very seldom if any find I can’t trust them. They may mess with you but if your serious and honest with them they’ll be the same back
what is something that 6th graders like to do
We would love to help! Can you give us a little more information?
Not go to school 🙂
or do it online
This podcast was great it really defines most of my friends because they we all are growing. Listening to this podcast I was amazed that it did resemble most of the boy in the school so thank you for letting the teens of the world listen to it and try and define themselves. So thank you😁
I enjoyed the article.
In my 34 years as a teacher, I have found that when I respect students, they respect me. What goes around comes around!
I teach 7th and 8th graders in Mississippi. I absolutely love them. I have worked with them for 18 years. All students have their ups and downs. I still enjoy teaching my middle schoolers. I love watching them grow emotionally, socially, and academically.
im a 5th grader going into 6th grade during this pandemic is just hard…
I know…my heart is breaking. Things just feel really out of whack right now. I’m so so sorry.
I am a new teacher. I will be teaching 7th grade science in the fall. Thank you for the heads up on some of the issues and the resolutions.
I think that is article is mean to middle schoolers we are going through hard times and maybe you guys dont understand
Hi Savannah! Thank you so much for sharing your opinion. If you get the chance, could you please tell us more? We’d love to learn from you. Thanks!
Good article good job adding most though I’m currently in 6th grade and I know a lot of kids who are nothing like this but I also know a lot of kids who are exactly like this
As a teacher myself, I agree it’s important to recognize the uniqueness of each child. At the same time, we can always seek to deepen our understanding of their development at each stage!
I so enjoyed the insights in this article. I am helping lead a girls youth group at church that has middle school and high school aged girls. I know they are still ‘developing’ in many ways and so appreciate the (often hilarious) insights in this article. Thank you!
I am also enjoying the comments. My thanks to all who took the time to share.
WowWowWow is all I can say I’m a seventh grader and am in my second month every single thing I saw here is surprisingly accurate and true.
I know there are others with other opinions on it but it’s ok to be diverse and listen to what you guys have to say this guide is gonna be so much helpful to me throughout this school year Thank you so much!
Thanks for reading, Noah! Hope you have a great school year!
Wow. This is useful! I can finally figure out why Middle-school boys are always overreacting and acting inappropriate.