So you think you can teach middle school?


Do you want to become a public middle school teacher? Do you think you have what it takes to educate the future minds of America? Do you think you can handle thirty rambunctious teenagers in a classroom? Before you sign up for this assignment, let me explain why each grade is very, very different.

Let’s start by examining the sixth grade level. In many ways, the sixth grade is “elementary school plus.” Although sixth-graders are adorably small, they’re also innocently nervous. In fact, sixth-graders enter the school year needing a substantial amount of “hand-holding.” From the onset, they’re faced with a bit of “transitional” challenges. For example, navigating through the school building, based on their particular class schedule, is a daunting task. At first, they’ll walk around aimlessly throughout the building, desperately searching for the “right” classroom.

After this practice becomes routine, the next hurdle, without question, is the infamous “locker combination.” Switching from “cubby holes” to lockers is a monumental shift for sixth-graders. The first time they try to open their assigned lockers, they become easily rattled. Some master this skill in a few attempts; others will need multiple attempts, if not multiple days, to open their locker. During this time, be ready to encourage students through their frustrations, and do not let them quit. The most important advice: do not open the locker for them! If you open their locker, they’ll depend on you on to do so daily. Don’t fall for this trap! Always remember, it’s better to teach a person to fish, then to give them a fish.

Aside from the logistical obstacles, the most important aspect of sixth-graders is their “squirreliness” within the classroom. God bless them, but they cannot sit still for more than five minutes at a time, especially towards the end of the school day. So, be ready to redirect constantly, or, at the very least, become a master at using classroom management tools, such as ClassDojo, to set classroom expectations. When it comes to sixth-graders, the more rules and routines you firmly set up, the better off you’ll be in the long run. More than any other middle school grade, sixth-graders will definitely fill-in any “routine and procedure gaps” that exists.

Another piece of advice, do not be lulled into a false sense of classroom management security. Although the sixth-graders will start the school year following every rule, somewhere between the months of October through December, this “willingness” to behave fades away. During these months, they’ll begin to “settle in.” Though this occurs in relatively small doses, expect sixth graders to challenge your authority within the classroom. Before the winter break, it may start with one or two students per class, but after the break, and especially in March, it quickly becomes a handful of students per class. In fact, somewhere in March, sixth-graders begin to transform into pre-seventh-graders. At this point, their lovableness has faded, and their innocence has gone away. They’re preparing to suffer from the “middle child” syndrome. Enter the seventh grade.

Seventh-graders hit the ground running. Literally. If they’re not running to something, then they’re running from something. As the sixth-graders were innocent, seventh-graders are easily excited. If I had to use one word to describe the seventh grade, it is this: drama! Drama is at an all time high with seventh-graders. Virtually every “mole” becomes a mountain within a matter of milliseconds. Why? Well, because their hormones are “all over the map.” If they’re not talking about another student, then they’re staring at another student. If they’re not staring at another student, then they are touching another student.

Moreover, they’re highly emotional and painfully unpredictable. By and large, they’re fixated on their appearance and social image. For them, school isn’t a place you come to learn; it’s a place you come to “socialize.” In fact, their vocabulary consists of following phrases, “he said… she said… they said…we said… I said…” etc. Personally speaking, I’ve never met a group of students more concerned about gossip, then about any course content. If you’re considering teaching seventh grade, just know, that your school year will involve several peaks and valleys.

By far, seventh-graders are the most difficult to corral within the classroom, let alone within the school building. They seem to always run on pure adrenaline. If there’s ever a case for why students need a recess period, it is most definitely the seventh grade. In my professional experience, many a teacher have succumbed to the challenges of teaching seventh grade. It is, beyond a doubt, the most challenging grade to teach within the middle school level. Teaching seventh grade is definitely an emotional, physical, and mental roller coaster. With that said, there’s a light at the end of the seventh grade tunnel. This light is the eighth grade.

Without question, eighth-graders are the closest to being “little adults.” In fact, it never ceases to amaze me how a student, who was highly irrational as a seventh-grader, can settle down by the eighth grade. Within the middle school level, eighth-graders are known for being mellower than both sixth and seventh graders, combined. Although they’re still concerned with their appearance and social image, they seem to focus more on academics and learning. In fact, out of all three grades, their reasoning skills are the best.

Often times, one-on-one conferences are extremely productive with eighth-graders. Although they still have their challenging days, they tend to put things in perspective. Perhaps, the reality that high school is “just around the corner” serves as the primary motive for improving their academic and behavior performance. Or. Perhaps, their hormone levels are closer to achieving equilibrium. Whatever the case or cause, there’s a noticeable difference between eighth-graders and the other two middle school grades. Now, I don’t mean to suggest that eighth-graders are “angels” all of the time. However, they’re definitely the most mature.

Each middle school grade presents its own set of unique challenges. Sixth-graders are the most dependent, and need a healthy dose of “hand-holding.” Seventh-graders are the most dramatic and highly unpredictable. Eight-graders are the most mature, motivated, and rational. Regardless of the grade, teaching within the middle school level is not for the faint of heart. It’s definitely a tough assignment, but the personal rewards are indescribable. If you seek a teaching assignment that will challenge you, on a daily basis, then you must consider joining the middle school level.


One thought on “So you think you can teach middle school?

  1. No question middle school is tougher – tougher even than 9th grade. I started with middle schoolers in summer programs. So, I was happy to have them come to our high school. (even so, its a mistake to create a hardcore 6 to 12th 100% poverty school)

    I depended a lot on playing b-ball with my students, and being slow I had to anticipate their moves. You can’t anticipate anything about what those little middle school critters would do.

    They were so cute when they’ve stick their heads in my class. We’d invite them in and introduce them to high school instruction, before sending them back. Sometimes I had to throw one over my shoulder to deliver him back to his side of the school. But, they, like high school kids, wanted to learn something “real.” So, when they arrived in our high school class, they were looking forward to lessons like this:


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