As rain drizzles down upon the heads of youthful spirits entering Ocean City Elementary School, parents and students are hand-in-hand entering the building. Students embrace teachers waiting for them inside the corridor and friendly exchange of words between parents are common.
Earlier that day only a few miles away, students parked cars and acknowledged their teachers upon entering Stephen DeCatur High School. Many brought their own iced coffees and lounged in common areas speaking with peers as well as school faculty.
Each anecdote is common practice in the Ocean City-Berlin area, but those warm and fuzzy feelings are not always the same when entering middle schools. Instead, students are signal calling their social group to join them in the hallways, attempting to determine where they fit in the social structure, or perhaps finding their safe haven, wherever it may be in the school.
This factious scenario, but real locations, is the way undergraduate students perceive middle school students. Yes, they are youthful and immature. Yes, there is a component of the student learning their identity. Yes, it is not all warm and fuzzy like elementary school.
Then, what is it then?
Middle school is the time when students needs rock solid role models and adults who care about them the most. Elementary school teachers have laid the foundation at a time when students love school and all of their teachers. Middle school teachers must sustain that passion and build upon it.
Wow, that is not an easy task, but it is necessary to see students achieve at their maximum capacity. However, high quality middle school teachers are becoming harder and harder to find.
Teaching undergraduate classes at the university level, I have taught numerous students who are on elementary or high school certification tracks. Why, I ask them? For some reason, they are terrified of the age group and believe it’s too much of a challenge.
Yes, it’s a rough time.
I have found it is a time when you must unconditionally model love and relationships to students. For some odd reason, it is a time when they must show off who they think they are to friends and find themselves. That’s when you show love the most, sometimes tough love, but still love them the most.
During this time, teachers must be willing to have courageous conversations and courageous visits. Middle schoolers have to see you love them to give a darn about you or your subject area.
I often tell undergrads if you love students and want to make a difference, become a middle school teacher. There is no better reward.
–BRIAN COOK, Ed.D.–