So, I’m finally back to post Part 2 of my New Middle School Teacher’s Survival Guide. If you missed it, catch up on Part 1 here. Whether it’s your first year teaching and you’re starting in middle school OR you’re making the jump from elementary to middle school, I hope I can make that transition easier with a few things I wish someone had told me.
Before I start, I do need to apologize for the huge gap between Part 1 and Part 2. See, I started reading this book, became consumed by the book, and it took over my entire life for the past 2 days! I’ve finished the book, and I’m happy to declare myself human again.
Oh, glorious homework! I’ve actually had *THREE* people ask me this week about homework, and here’s my best advice. If you’re trying to come up with ideas for the kids to do for homework, STOP. It isn’t worth it.
Some facts to consider regarding homework in middle school.
1) Most likely, you are going to have some students who never do homework. Ever. And depending on your school protocol, there might not be a thing you can do about it.
2) Middle school students play sports, and there are some days that they won’t even be home until after 9pm. (I have a 7th grader, and this is the case for us every Wednesday night, and he’s never involved in more than one activity at a time)
3) There are other teachers on your team that will load the students down with homework every night for the sake of giving homework.
If you really want something done, then do it during school hours.
That being said, I do give homework. BUT, I do it *tactfully* and that makes all the difference.
I only give homework when I’ve got something I really want the kids to do but we don’t have time to do it in class, OR when we get really behind and I need them to catch up. On average, I probably end up giving homework once a week, occasionally twice, and some weeks we don’t have homework at all.
If there’s a football game or basketball tournament or PTO meeting or Skate Night or some other event that might make it difficult to complete homework, I won’t make anything due the next day. I’ll write “Go Panthers!” or something like that on the homework board where I’d write the assignment, and the students will get the hidden message. “Go Panthers!” actually says “I care about your activities and they are important.” Also, next week when you get behind and have to load them up, you won’t feel so bad and they won’t be sick and tired of doing your homework.
One final thing about homework – I almost always give students a minimum of two nights to complete an assignment. Sure, some students (my son included) will just put it off and do it the second night. But you never know when a student might have a ridiculous amount of your partner teacher’s homework to do or something going on at home that would make it difficult to do your homework that night.
In a nutshell, assign homework with intention and compassion.
5. Classroom Jobs – They Aren’t Just for Elementary!
OK… Let me be honest on this one. It has taken me quite some time to catch on to this little trick, but I’m learning! I figured this out mid-year last year and it has been the BEST.THING.EVER. I had some busy-body girls in my homeroom who always wanted to be in the middle of everything and were rarely in their seat when they were supposed to be. These are the PERFECT candidates for your jobs. Now, you won’t need a “Light Manager” or a “Line Leader,” but figure out what you WILL need and assign that stuff! I’m going to make a bulletin board section near where I post the lunch menu that says something like “JOBS FOR HIRE” and let my homeroom students volunteer for jobs. My jobs for next year:
Librarian – shelves my class library books – I put them in a certain spot once I’ve scanned them in, and any morning she sees books in THAT pile, she’ll put them back on the shelf.
Lunch Count – I’ll post photos once I make the chart I use – a MUST – but basically this student is responsible for finding out who brought their lunch, who’s eating first lunch, and who’s eating second lunch. Your busybody is going to love this job.
Paper Passer – There’s always some note coming up from the front office, and they’ll send it to your homeroom to be distributed. I always forget. I never remember! My kids never have their notes home on time, and I’m ashamed. So, I put a basket in a certain location (top of a bookshelf near my desk) and anytime I get something from the front office to go home, I just throw it in that basket. I have a student whose job it is to check the basket and pass out whatever is in there. Boom. Done. My students are so much better at remembering to do these things than me, because for them, it’s a job they’ll look forward to and a reason to get out of their seats.
ictv3 – ictv3 is our school news broadcast that we download from the network each morning and play via Quick Time on our laptops/projectors. Pick a kid who would love to get his hands on your laptop (a responsible one! ha!) and show him how to turn on the projector and access the file from the server. I won’t give out my passwords, of course, but it will sure be nice not having to worry about this.
I know there’s another job I want but I’m drawing a mental blank right now. Think long and hard about the tasks that you would like automated in your homeroom and assign those jobs to students. They’re not too old to enjoy doing things for you – I promise. Oh, and if a student is slacking on the job, fire them. Seriously. Get someone who can do the job properly.
Of course, I don’t have jobs in all of my classes – that is ONLY FOR HOMEROOM. Now, those 10 minutes in the morning aren’t a source of stress for me trying to hurry up and do all the things above. Sure, there are some things that require my attention. But for the most part, I have that precious time to do those last minute things to prepare for my lessons instead of doing paperwork.
6. Absent Students. Ooooooh BOY.
Absent students are going to become your pet peeve. You’re going to be seeing up to 150 or so students a day, and you aren’t going to remember exactly who was absent on exactly which day. I’m always asking “Who wasn’t here yesterday?” etc. so I can make sure they’re on track for the continuation of what we’re doing. Unfortunately, I don’t have a way to prevent absences. BUT, I will suggest coming up with a system that puts the STUDENTS in charge of obtaining work missed. Simply keep a folder somewhere (I’d need one for each grade level since I teach 6th, 7th, and 8th) for each different class that you teach, and place handouts, copies of notes, etc. in that folder. Hold the students responsible for getting what they missed from that folder. It isn’t a foolproof method, and you’ll still have to do some catching up, but it sure beats shuffling through your files every time a student says “Can I get a copy of that? I was absent.” Ugh. The WORST part about this is that I rarely have something physical to give the student to make up for the class period. I might as well say “YOU MISSED IT! You missed instruction. A whole hour of instruction that you’ll never get again. Oh well!” Ugh.
7. Say “I don’t know.”
Let’s face it. Once you get up to middle school, some of that curriculum is kind of tricky! I mean, some of it gets downright confusing, especially when you’re teaching a subject for the first time and didn’t anticipate the excellent question that a student just asked you. Don’t stutter. Don’t make stuff up. DEFINITELY don’t make stuff up. They’ll see right through you. Be prepared to admit it! Say “I don’t know!” Don’t leave it at that, either. Write the question down (I like to write it right on the white board in the front of the room so that I CAN’T forget it), find out the answer, and tell the student once you find out. Once again, your students aren’t going to tell you this – but they will appreciate you for your honesty. Really.