Making the Switch to Middle School

I’m relatively new to the Middle School world, this is only my third year. My first three years as a teacher were in Kindergarten and Grade 1. I was very comfortable teaching in classrooms with tiny chairs and tables, and with a carpet to do group learning and discussions on. Then I had an interview for a Grade 8 Core position. I applied because I thought I’d like to try it, and because a principal of mine had suggested that I might really like middle school.

I have never been more nervous for an interview than this one, and their first question put me on the spot. They asked me what in my experience and qualifications made me the best candidate for the position. I couldn’t very well say ‘nothing’, could I? Instead, I talked about how primary grades helped me understand how people learn, and that building relationships was the most important thing and that I believe that to be true in any grade. Turns out, it was a good answer and I got the job.

I struggled with many things when setting up my classroom; how to decorate it, were my plans too young for them and I wondered if I was making a mistake in this switch. I second guessed everything I put up, and every plan I made.

Meeting my Grade 8 students for the first time, I couldn’t believe how tall they all were! More than half my class was taller than me, and they took up so much space in my classroom. They were big, smelly, loud and messy. We got through our first day without a catastrophe and then our first week. They liked that most of our room was decorated with their work, and I had no complaints about our learning. Grade 8 was a lot like Grade 1; they wanted to have fun and most of them wanted to learn. It only took me about 2 weeks to love grade 8.

I quickly learned that although Middle School kids are often labeled as ‘too cool for school’ and judgemental – most of them aren’t. They’re self conscious and timid and worried about the future. More importantly, they are becoming their own people, influenced by their families, their peers and hopefully by their teachers. They want (and need) a voice and a role in their own learning and they need to feel like their effort is worth it. They challenge you and need you to challenge them.

My Grade 8 class that year was funny and challenging, talented and kind. They pushed me to be a better, more thoughtful teacher and I hope that I pushed them to test their limits. We built a strong community in our classroom that encouraged them to take risks, and to make mistakes. They’re the reason I love Middle School as much as I do.

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