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8 Things I Know for Sure About (Most) Middle School Kids


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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’ll 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 do 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.

MS-6As 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. ♥


Want to learn more?
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. [Note, these links are Amazon Affiliate links, which means if you click on them then buy anything on Amazon, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support!]


Like what you’ve seen so far?
If this one spoke to you, I’d love to have you come back for more. Join my mailing list and get weekly tips, tools, and inspiration — in quick, bite-sized packages — all geared toward making your teaching more effective and joyful. To thank you, I’ll send you a free copy of my new e-booklet, 20 Ways to Cut Your Grading Time in Half. I look forward to getting to know you better!



  1. Shelby says:

    Great article!

    • Angelica Hayward says:

      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.

    • Ms. James says:

      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.

    • Mr. Garcia says:

      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.

  2. Paula Meadows says:

    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.

  3. 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!

  4. Shelley says:

    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?

  5. I’m just teaching middle school again this year! So excited! Really great read! Loved it!

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

  8. Becky says:

    Thanks from a first year sixth grade teacher! I love middle school, they are smart, more independent and constantly changing!

  9. thanks jen that one part about people acting like don’t exist part realy helped

  10. I’m a middle-schooler myself and I agree with a lot on here.

  11. Paris Bowman says:

    I’m a middle school student,and there is a lot of kids who are like this.IT’S A JUNGLE OUT THERE!!!!!

    • Ryan Pual says:

      Actually its not a jungle because there are no monkeys and no trees.

  12. Delaney says:

    This article is SUPER true 98% true; i should know; i am a middle schooler

  13. Genevieve says:

    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.

  14. Christina Hubbard says:

    Great observations and advice!! A+

  15. Ed says:

    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!

  16. Ben says:

    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?

    • Mighty Mike C. says:

      you sound like a walnut tree to me.

      • Ashley Mayes says:

        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.

  17. Margie says:

    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.

  18. Mighty Mike C. says:

    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.

  19. Kathy Mercado says:

    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!!

  20. Kathy Mercado says:

    Keep up the great work!!

  21. Kirsten says:

    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.

  22. Libby says:

    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. ….

  23. 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.

  24. Pseudonym says:

    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?)

  25. Brandi says:

    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!!

  26. Jeanette says:

    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.

  27. Rebecca says:

    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!

  28. Kyle says:

    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!

  29. Lila Rossi says:

    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.

  30. Kathleen says:

    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.

  31. Cheli says:

    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.

  32. 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.
    Much appreciated!!!!!

  33. Renae Aberdeen says:

    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!

  34. 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.

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