Over this summer, I’ve been contacted by a few teachers who are either starting their first year teaching in middle school or moving from elementary to middle this year, so I decided to write up a Survival Guide for those teachers!
Of course, every teacher is different, and every class is different. All of these tips and techniques may work for you – or they might not – but here are some things I wish someone had told me!
1. Make a seating chart on the first day of school.
It’s true. Few things will spark as many sighs and eye rolls from middle schoolers as a seating chart, but I would *never* consider teaching without one. Maybe it’s the elementary teacher in me, or maybe it’s my overly-cautious classroom management style. But I ALWAYS have a seating chart. Keep it simple to begin with and make changes later as needed. I always start out with the usual ABC order – it helps me to learn students’ names when they sit in the same seat every day and when I can mentally deduce by using the alphabet. Because after all, learning 150 new faces can be impossible without some sort of structure, and nothing says “I don’t care about you” or “I’m not really in control here” as not being able to identify a student by name. Furthermore, you can keep a cheat sheet of your seating chart on your stand or podium in the front of the room and call students by name with a quick glance down until you learn them all. A fellow teacher suggested last year that working out her seating charts was a lot like playing Minesweeper – who remembers that game?!
AND of course, you-know-who says it best of all…
So, take control from day 1, and separate those talkers! Don’t let your class become social hour.
2. Decorate your room. Even choose a theme if you’d like!
Don’t listen to those other teachers who say “We don’t do themes in middle school” or “those kids are too old for that.” NO, they’re not. THOSE kids will appreciate an aesthetically pleasing room as much as anyone else. Throwing up a few assorted “motivational” posters is not the only way to decorate your middle school classroom. Choose a theme that’s relevant and not to kiddie, and keep it in line with your own personality. The kids at my school knew me first as the technology director, so when I made the switch to middle school literature, I went with a technology theme – “There’s a Book for That” – and posted books as apps all around my room.
And while we’re at it – middle schoolers are also not too old to have their own work posted. I also included student-created book-apps.
After using this theme for the last two years, I’ve decided to switch it up and keep it fresh since I see most of the same students for three years in a row. So, this year I’m going with sweets, mostly cupcakes, and bright happy colors. Here’s a sneak peak, although I haven’t gotten into my classroom to put stuff up yet…
Hopefully I’ll have more pictures for you as I get into my classroom this week. In place of the “There’s a book for that” I’ll put something like “Savor a Sweet Read” – because we all know that books are treats. 🙂
Oh, and I couldn’t post them for you even as a freebie because that would violate copyright laws, but I’d be more than happy to share my book apps or my book cupcakes with you (those should be finished this week) – just email me (use icon near top right) and I’ll SHARE them with a fellow teacher, since that’s just personal and classroom use, right? 😉
3. Bathroom! Agh! Decide how to manage this in ADVANCE.
If you’re coming up from elementary, you know that nothing can be as bad of a time-waster as disorganized bathroom procedures. The same is true for middle schoolers!
First, let me share with you a short lesson I learned at a conference a couple of years ago. It was AWFUL. Awful. HORRIBLE! The trainer was terrible, boring, and kept getting off topic (I think it was on writing and something…). By the afternoon, I was exhausted and sick of listening to this incapable woman and feeling really, really sorry for her actual students. When she gave us a writing assignment (something really lame about a chair), I pretended to have to go to the bathroom and roamed the halls to get out of doing it. While doing that, I listened in for a few minutes on another session that seemed way better than the one I had paid for. I finally returned, relieved that they were about to move on and I wouldn’t have time to write the really stupid paragraph when it HIT ME. O-M-G. This is *exactly* what a middle school student does when he wants to get out of doing something – right?!
Of course, we always hope that our students will always see the value in EVERY activity that we do, but the fact is, no matter how fabulous and engaging we are, some students are going to avoid doing things that are uncomfortable for them or require too much brainpower. Especially during last hour – trust me.
Further complicating matters is that NO teacher with a heart is going to deny any middle school GIRL the opportunity to visit the restroom, and we all know WHY – Flashing back to the worst years – and worst periods – of my life here. You are too, aren’t you?
SO, here’s how I manage that.
First, if a girl asks to use the restroom, the answer is never NO. Sometimes, I might ask her if she can wait until we switch to another activity or I’m done discussing something or whatever – but it’s really up to her. “Can you wait about 10 minutes, or do you need to go now?” I’m always flexible there, and often the student will say she can wait – but sometimes she’ll say she needs to go now. No questions asked…
Also, consider having a stash of feminine products in a discreet location in the back of your classroom (if you’re a female teacher). I know that the receptionist keeps some and so does the counselor, but I make it a point to buy the really good name brand stuff. Young girls tend to prefer Tampax brand – the teen and discreet varieties – and I also buy Kotex extra thin. I call it “equipment” and don’t advertise it, but the girls will spread the word amongst themselves. They won’t tell you so, but they will really appreciate it. AND sure it’s my own personal money, but it’s easy for me to buy THIS without my husband noticing. He’d never complain or even comment on my purchase of feminine products, no matter how much I seem to buy. 🙂
When it comes to male students, I’m a bit more firm. “Wait about 10 minutes, when we switch activities, I’ll let you go, but remind me.” Sometimes they forget they even asked, and other times their hand is up the minute they think we’re switching activities.
I also recommend having a sign-out sheet by the door. This serves a couple of purposes.
1 – A written record that can be used during parent conferences or when other issues arise. I’m sorry that Johnny has been doing so poorly in my class, Mrs. Jones, but he is constantly missing important activities by asking to use the restroom. In the past month, he’s left my class 8 times for the restroom. That’s about 40 minutes he’s lost – almost a whole class period.
Sadly, when the 2nd floor bathroom was repeatedly being vandalized, we teachers had to launch an investigation of our own. We narrowed down the times the offense was occurring and fortunately I was able to know exactly who I had allowed to use the restroom during those times.
2 – It reminds the students that I’m paying attention to who leaves and for how long. I ask them for their name, time out, destination, and time in. Just a little bit of accountability goes a long way.
What about students who just want water? This one’s really easy for me. I teach in a really old building, and it’s south Louisiana. It’s likely to be hot year around on the third floor where I am! And I’d never deny a student a drink of water. So here’s what I do. Anytime we are completing group activities or independent activities (not a test) I’ll open my doors. This is an unspoken signal to my students that a water break is OK. There are a couple of rules. 1) One student in the hall at a time and 2) One water visit per person, per day. They monitor this themselves and I don’t have to. I think they really appreciate this courtesy – the acknowledgement that a drink of water goes a long way!
One more thing – we all know that we’ve got that student who can’t sit still and is GOING to find a reason to get out of his seat at some point during the class period. They might ask you an unnecessary question or ask to visit the bathroom or water, or who KNOWS what else. Well, this water privilege solves that problem. They can get up and walk around for a minute without even having to make up a reason.
Stay tuned for Part 2 later this week, and if you’ve got any questions about middle school, ask away!