George Lucas Educational Foundation

Ready to be Let Go vs. Still Holding Their Hand

Ready to be Let Go vs. Still Holding Their Hand

Related Tags: 6-8 Middle School
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As we all know, teaching middle school is about straddling the elementary and high school worlds. It's our job to prepare them for their future as an independent high schooler, but many aren't ready to be independent. After all, some are still playing Operation, while some have moved on to playing Doctor. Some are still brought their lunch everyday, while others are cooking their own dinner as latch-key kids. How do we help them all academically and developmentally? That is the middle school teacher challenge. How do we "spot" these tween academic gymnasts without hand-holding? How do we prepare them for independence when parents may still be coddling? How do we support them when parents are ready to let go prematurely? Please share your tricks, tips, stories, and thoughts!

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Erika Saunders's picture
Erika Saunders
6th-8th Special Ed, LS & Mentally Gifted teacher

I find that being honest with students really makes a difference. You have to care about them; but you have to HONESTLY care. You have to listen to them and their concerns; but you have to listen HONESTLY. You have to challenge them to work hard and reach their potential; but you have to HONESTLY believe that they can do it. You have to build a relationship with them; but it has to be an HONEST relationship.

Their going to love you one minute and hate you the next. Want you to be their mother and want to be left alone. Hold their hand and give them their independence. Show them you care but not necessarily in front of anyone. If you can be genuine, honest, truly listen, and care it will take you pretty far.

John Kazmaier's picture
John Kazmaier
Math Teacher

I think we need to have high expectation for the kids, but realistic. If we tell them where we want them to be and give them a map of how to get there, chances are we see successes. We also have to remember, me included, that they don't just come pre-programmed with certain skills and knowledge. After having 8th graders for 3 years and then switching to 7th graders last year, I have a whole new understanding of that! We just began looping this last year so I get to see how my little 7th graders have matured (hopefully :) ) over the summer and we get to start the 8th grade adventure together. I started raising my expectation level last year and will go even further this year...hopefully that'll be just what they need for the high school transition. And Erika, I agree wholeheartedly! They may not always like what we have to say...but I know they appreciate the honesty and that has given me a very good start in building some key relationships with some of our more "reluctant learners."

Tereima Winfield's picture

The middle school age group is hard group to deal with. The students are bi-polar. One minute they think they are grown enough for sex and other adult activities. The next minute they're crying because someone took their pencil. So how do you treat and prepare these students? Some teachers at my school use the "baby" method which I am totally against this! I believe that it is our job at the middle grade level to make students as independent and responsible as possible. It is our job to give them the skills, and lead them in the right direction when they get off track. This does not mean that students dont get the hugs, encouragement,and knowledge they need, but the "spoon feeding" must stop. I believe this is why many high schools now have freshmen academies because middle school students are not mentally prepared for high school because of the hand holding they've recieved at the middle school level.

Katie Bess's picture

I completely agree that honesty is best with this age group. They need guidance at this point in their life not someone praising them constantly. That is not how life works. I hate it when I hear that children are in a competition and if they lose, they are still given an award. Yes, participation should be recognized, but in the real world, not everyone wins. This is what middle school students really need to understand. They need to learn responsibility and that concept and understanding of it is coming straight from the parents and the educators.

Sherry Quellhorst's picture
Sherry Quellhorst
8th grade Language Arts Reading teacher from Harlingen, TX

I've taught 6th and 8th grade, and I deal with 6-8th as co-director of our 1-act play. And you just have to know when they need a warm embrace or when they need some tough love. I remember one immature, coddled 6th grader who got into trouble. He sobbed so hard about having to serve after-school detention that the other kids just stared at him in disbelief. I took the boy outside the room and explained matter-of-factly that 1) this was his consequence for the behavior he chose 2) he would need to control himself so the other children won't tease him. To that, he moaned aloud: "I don't care what anyone else thinks! I don't waaant to beeee heeeere!" and continued sobbing, tears and snot running in storm gutter fashion around his mouth. I took a deep breath, leaned in, and said in a low voice: "You are a big boy now. You made a bad choice - you probably won't do it again. But right now, you have a detention to serve, and you need to just suck it up and take it like a big boy. You sit down and stop crying and it will all be over in about 20 minutes." He served the rest of that detention quietly, and I never heard about him getting another one after that.
I'm not usually that gruff with my kiddoes. In fact, I give out a lot of hugs, high 5's, and smiles. But I also think we need to let kids have opportunities to mend and grow stronger. In the midst of social drama so prevalent at middle school, I constantly tell my kids, "Yes, it's tough being in middle school, but it gets so much better if you can just hang on until you're halfway through high school." As Tereima said, the kids "are bipolar" at that age. They really need us to just be there and stick with them through it all.

Nancy's picture
9/10th grade US history teacher, CT

having taught 7-8 grade for the last 12 years...It is definitly bipolar. I have had the opportunity to loop with that age group... Loved it. Got moved to a school that did not do that and I miss the 8th grade maturity level. The first marking period of 7th is tough... 1st time for switching classes every 45 minutes... having 5 teachers for core subjects, and all the social emotional issues... 7th is harder than 8th for the changes... By 8th they have settled down and in the case of my school, are the oldest of the grades K-8 school.
To answer the question posed... it is both... some need to be pushed out of the nest and others are already flying and need to know how to fly better.

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