It’s hard to imagine a more transitional phase of a child’s education than middle school. No longer in the sheltered embrace of the elementary classroom, but before entering the big, bad high school. Oh, and no more recess, which might be the ultimate tragedy. When student-teaching in middle school, you have a unique opportunity to guide your students through this time. This also means it can be an especially demanding role, but you might find you get as much out of the experience—if not more—than you put in.
1. Middle schoolers are as afraid as you are
If you remember being 13 years old, then it's unlikely that you would ever want to be 13 again. And if you don’t remember your time as a young teen, let me remind you: You were probably awkward, gangly, and pubescent, with emerging responsibilities and limited freedom. You're entering a new school full of exciting potential—and it’s downright horrifying. How do you use the lock on your locker? Where is third-period history? How do you find X in Algebra, and why would you want to?
As anxious as you might be as a student-teacher, remember you couldn't be any more frightened than your fresh crop of students. If you're worried about your first day of teaching outfit, they're more concerned about the way they look. If you think you might lose your way to the bathroom, they've been up all night studying the map of the school. But all this fear is okay; in fact, it will bond you tightly together. As you show up and teach each day, you'll learn that it's okay to be scared of talking in front of your class, to be worried about knowing the material you’re teaching, and to be nervous about how to handle classroom conflicts. And as you learn to deal with and shake off your fear, you can assist your students with the same. Much of their acting out will stem from a place of fear—fear over where they fit in socially, if they can trust you, or their competence in class. Help your shy students blossom by boosting their confidence, provide structure for your boisterous students, and offer the comfort of boundaries for students who like to test limits.
2. Middle school is a time of possibility, change, and development—for you too
For me, teaching in middle school was a big change from my college courses. Until then, I had spent my time taking notes, reading textbooks, and writing essays. I was rarely expected to engage in public speaking, and even courses on classroom management were grounded in theory. Stepping into the classroom was a completely new world. But I quickly recognized the opportunity it was to grow my skills in teaching and sharing all the facts I had just spent the past four years shoving into my brain.
Middle schoolers are used to the world of elementary school, with recess and snack time and teachers who mistakenly get called “mom” because they're safe and gentle. Middle school is the transition from childhood to the young adult years and preparation for the pressures of high school. You get to be the tour guide as they explore their identities, personalities, dreams, and goals for the future. It's an exciting stage of intellectual, emotional, and social development, characterized by an increased level of empathy for others and engagement in critical thinking. The contents of your lessons can engage these new intellectual developments too! You can teach more complex math problems, study books that explore abstract concepts, get more in-depth with the scientific method (especially when it comes to making and testing hypotheses), and pick out the patterns of cause and effect in historical events.
3. Middle schoolers desperately need mentors
Middle school gets a bad reputation. When I first told people that my student-teaching semester was going to be spent in a small city, at an overcrowded middle school with youth who came from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, people politely wished me luck. And not-so-politely questioned my sanity. But not only can I confidently say that my student-teaching experience in middle school is not full of horror stories—I know it actually offered wonderful chances for connections with students.
It's often said that youth need at least one adult role model or mentor in their life to achieve their goals, like graduating high school or college, successfully. You can be that mentor to students in your classroom. As middle schoolers begin the process of breaking away from their parents and claiming their autonomy, they need positive adult influences in their lives outside of their immediate family. They aren't yet emotionally, socially, or physically able to handle adulthood, but this is when they start trying. While parents and some of the other older teachers are uncool, you're younger and more familiar with the grind of classes. You can connect better with students while serving as an example of what they can achieve.
Related: What Is Being a Teacher Really Like?
As a mentor to your students, you have a lot to offer. You can provide guidance and show how discipline in the classroom can lead to self-discipline and future success. Demonstrate courteous and respectful behavior to your students through your actions, and remember to give them a break. Teaching middle school as a young adult, but you remember how much harder being in middle school is. Give your students chances to thrive and be there to support them when they need it!
Not sure middle school is the grade you want to teach? Check out our blog How to Choose the Grade and Subject You Want to Teach to help you make a final decision.