Making the change from elementary to middle school classes is an adjustment for everyone. When transitioning from fifth to sixth grade, students go from the top of the totem pole to the very bottom. They have to switch teachers and classrooms for every subject, get used to a whole new school, learn how to open and close their locker (multiple times a day), and deal with the challenges of their peers. According to Psychology Today, the feeling of being overwhelmed and anxious is very common among students at this age.
As teachers, we expect there to be challenges. We're prepared for students to be late to class because they couldn't get their lockers open, and we know that trying to organize six different classroom folders can be a struggle. We probably don't even want to be reminded about entering puberty and dealing with friendship drama! But if you're a new teacher and aren't sure how to help your students navigate these newer, more treacherous waters, fear not. Here are some tips to help you quickly build a rapport with your students, gain their respect, and support them while they adjust to their new life as middle schoolers.
Building a Rapport with Students
Part of a middle school teacher's mission is to help their students learn self-management and social skills. While in elementary school, teachers have the ability to help and nurture their students because of small class sizes. However, reaching every student becomes difficult in a middle school setting because teachers are responsible for larger classes (something students are adjusting to as well). So how can you build a stronger relationship in just one class period?
First, draw students to you. Be yourself and let your own personality shine. When your students enter the classroom, greet everyone with a smile—or maybe a fist pump or a high five. Then let them get to know you on a personal, but professional, level. You can do this by sharing some personal stories about what life was like when you were that age. You could even set up time to connect with each student one-on-one to check in on their transition and see how you can best support them. The most important element of building a relationship with middle school students is letting your guard down and being available as a mentor and confidant.
Creating an Atmosphere of Respect
There's an old saying that goes, "You can't teach someone to respect you; respect must be earned." If you want to be respected by your sixth graders, then you must respect them. One way to accomplish this is to always keep your word. If you tell your class that there won't be homework on Friday, or promise a special reward for high quiz scores, then you have to stick with it if you want to be respected. You also want to be careful to not take misbehavior personally. When you allow students to get under your skin, it can be easy to lecture, yell, or challenge your students. This doesn't set a good example, nor will students respect you if you show these behaviors.
You also have to give students some control over their learning. A simple way to do that is to give them options. For example, you could say, "You have two choices today for your homework: either write in your journals or complete a review game on your app." By giving students a sense of control over their learning, you're showing them that you trust their judgment. All middle school students want is to be heard and have a choice. As long as you incorporate this into your curriculum, your students will respect you and be happy.
Helping Students Adjust to Classes
From figuring out their locker combinations to knowing when to study and prepare for a quiz, there are a lot of challenges that middle school students have to face. As a teacher, you can help students adjust to their new routine by giving them a few pointers. These can be as simple as telling them to keep their locker combination written down in a safe place where they can easily access it or something as involved as helping a student discover the studying technique that works best for them. If you see a student struggling, lend them a hand.
There are a lot developmental challenges that occur during the transition to middle school classes, which can be a lot for both you and your students to handle. But, with your help, they will persevere, and hopefully everyone will end the year feeling like middle school isn't that scary after all.