For many people, the words middle school conjure thoughts of awkward, high-energy, squeaky-voiced — and sometimes stubborn — adolescents. For others, their time spent in middle school is something to look back on and just be thankful they made it out fairly unscathed. If cracking open your middle school yearbook makes you cringe just a little bit, you're definitely not alone.
It's natural to mentally pair the awkward flailings and failings of your early teen years with middle school in general. But don't let these connotations keep you from considering a career teaching middle school. There are a lot of rewarding aspects of working with students in this age group. In fact, many middle school teachers wouldn't have it any other way.
To help you determine whether or not you're cut out for teaching middle school, we enlisted some professionals in the field to find out what it really takes. Keep reading to find out if you'd be the right fit for this highly rewarding career path.
Though some middle school students may be creeping up on the surly, 'too-cool-for-school' phase of their lives, many are still genuinely excited to learn about the world around them. If you're the type who feeds off of the excitement of others, you might be heading in the right direction.
The key is to find the right ways to channel their youthful exuberance into something productive. "Kids at this age love to be social and helpful," says Hillary Tubin, middle school teacher turned literacy consultant. "Finding ways for them to mentor other students or teach a lesson to a younger grade really lets them shine and feel empowered."
For teachers hoping to positively mold the minds of future generations, middle school students are an excellent group to work with. They're just coming into their own as individuals and the worlds of possibilities ahead of them have many excited to learn.
With careful guidance, you can plant the seed for a lifelong interest in art, science or maybe even civic engagement. It may be a tricky line to walk, but students at this stage in life are eager to carve out their own identities. Part of that identity could be something profoundly positive if given the right nourishment and support.
"Great middle school teachers usually have a sense of humor," says Salpy Baharian, former middle school teacher and co-founder of Teacher.org. "These are individuals who have the ability to entertain while maintaining respect."
It's easy to grow tired of the sarcastic criticism of eye-rolling 13-year-olds. But some of the best middle school teachers know how to use this to their advantage. If you have a good sense of humor and can strategically dish out a sarcastic quip here or there, students may take a liking to your style and respond better in the classroom.
Most of the time, middle school teachers are quite literally the only adults in the room, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't embrace the spirit of their inner child. If you can take on the mindset of a teenager, you'll be better able to understand how to frame up lessons in ways that are fun and relatable.
We certainly don't recommend acting like a 13-year-old all of the time, but by going out of your way to know about your students' favorite musicians or popular TV shows, you can build connections and trust with them. These seemingly small gestures can go a long way.
Middle school is a pretty intense time for kids. They're growing like weeds, their hormones are raging and they're trying to figure out where they fit in. That can make for a bit of a pressure cooker.
Baharian says she believes the best teachers have a strong sense of empathy — something very helpful in diffusing that pressure. She suggests that the key is for teachers to be very aware of this potential inner turmoil. If a student is lashing out, a good teacher will do their best to understand where the student is coming from before making a disciplinary decision.
"[Students] pay close attention to everything the adults around them do, especially boys this age," Tubin explains. "If they sense a teacher is being unfair or hypocritical, they will either lash out or shut down, but a teacher may not realize they're the reason why."
One of the drawbacks to working with maturing students is the fact that they are generally more willing to challenge your authority as a teacher, particularly if they feel you're being unfair. That means it is important for you to remain firm with expectations of your students, but also to be vigilant regarding your own actions.
You get to set the standard for behavior, so do your best to live up to it. If you do slip up, you can use these moments to build trust with students by admitting your mistake and serving as an example of how to act when you're in the wrong.
Teaching middle school isn't for everyone — and that's ok! It takes a special person to thrive in an environment in which students are undergoing so many big changes in their lives. If you can relate to many of the qualities detailed above, you may be a natural fit to teach this age range!
But personality and temperament will only get you so far. You'll also need to establish a strong base of fundamental teaching skills to make the positive impact you know you're capable of. Check out The College of St. Scholastica's middle / secondary education degree program to learn how we can help you prepare for the profession.