Yikes – uncharted territory! Getting into the minds of your middle school students is a scary thought, but it is so important to understand where they’re coming from and how to motivate them. Here are some things to keep in mind this school year.
Let Us Talk!
We’re more social now, than we have been in our whole lives. Families are important, friends are everything. School is the best – when we can talk to our friends.
The trick here is to get your students to talk about what YOU want them to talk about. Give them chances to share their learning, whether it’s whole group, small group or partners. They can cement their learning and potentially help another student if they’re able to work through problems together. When I first tried this with my grade 8s, I basically ran around the classroom to try to keep all the groups on task. They’re not always going to be good at it, but I did find that they certainly got better with practice and consistent expectations. It also helped to have an end goal: “By the end of this class you need to…”.
My Phone is Distracting and so is Yours
If my phone is in front of me – I’m going on it. I don’t even realize I’m on it until I’m in trouble. I’m not doing it to break the rules, but it is incredibly addictive. It is even harder for me to follow a “no phones” rule if my teacher is on theirs all day.
You need to teach your students how to use technology responsibly and respectfully. No teacher wants to be Tech Police, but it also can’t run your classroom and you need to follow the school rules. Be consistent about when and where your kids can use their devices, but make sure you’re following the rules too. I put my phone away in my bag or desk, unless I’m using it to document what we’re doing – because I just can’t be trusted to avoid the temptation.
I’m not awake
First thing in the morning is so hard for me, I’m tired, I’m grumpy and not ready for school yet.
Adolescents need upwards of 10 hours of sleep a night – their bodies and brains are rapidly growing and changing. Most of your students are not getting enough sleep, and mornings are hard. Easing into the morning with low key or quiet work where possible is not a bad strategy to get the most out of your students. Mornings are hard for everyone.
My Body is My Enemy
Voice cracks, growing pains, periods and erections? Kill me now – everyone may be going through it, but I’m dying of embarrassment over here. If you ask me to come up to the board and I refuse, keep in mind – I may have a very good reason.
Remember that your students are suddenly at odds with their bodies, before they even realize that it’s happening. Help them to understand what is happening, cut them some slack and help them get past the embarrassment. Your students also need you to be honest with them. Being to one to say, “yes, you do need to wear deodorant” may be mildly uncomfortable for you, but it builds trust. They may never thank you for it, but they will be thankful.
Tell Me the Truth
I’m not a baby, I can tell when my teacher says something that they don’t mean. If you tell me you’re going to do something (call my family, help me at recess or get angry at one more interruption) I expect you to do it – if you don’t, I have a harder and harder time believing you.
If you’re going to give praise – mean it. They’ll know, and resent you, if you don’t. Be genuine in the things you ask your students about; you don’t have to like what they like, but expressing interest in learning more about it can go a long way.
If you make a threat, or a promise – follow through. Your students may never remember their forms, book or pencil, but they will always remember something you said you’d do, but didn’t.