If you don’t know already, I have a group for Middle School Social Studies Teachers on Facebook. These teachers are fantastic at providing advice and resources to their fellow teachers. Recently, an individual new to the profession asked for some advice as a first year middle school teacher. Of course, the group replied with some fantastic responses. I thought I would collect some of the best gems here for any of you new to teaching Middle School.
“It is one thing to have a passion for history, politics, and government. However, it is at least equally important to have a passion for kids.” – Roy P.
This is the absolute truth for History teachers. You really do have to love your content. As a History teacher, you have to continually read and improve your knowledge, and you have to love talking about the subject. Your passion for the content must shine through each lesson you teach your students.
With that said, however, you also have to really like teaching the content to kids. You have to think about how kids will understand and grasp that content, and you have to enjoy seeing them improve their understanding and learning. It’s not just about History, it’s about teaching History, and understanding that children will be learning from you.
“Consistency is important as is structure.” – Jennifer M.
Oh my goodness, yes. You should have a structure for your classroom and stick to that structure throughout the entire year. Even with the structure that I set up, I still have many students who are lost until at least October. If I kept changing that structure, and I had to keep reteaching my expectations, I would never reach the point where my students could actually learn history. Design a structure for your classes, and keep it consistent.
“As you plan this year, keep a copy of worksheets, articles, and materials in a binder. Add notes about things that need to be changed the next time you teach the lesson. Next year will be so much easier with that information.” – Sarah G.
You might think you will remember what you want to tweak or change from year to year, but you won’t. I might remember a few months afterward, but by the time the next year rolls around, I’ve completely forgotten any mental notes I’ve made. I keep all of my handouts digital, and I keep a copy of my notes digitally. (FYI: You can get a free copy of my weekly digital planner by signing up for my newsletter.)
“Teach bell to bell.” – Alyssa C.
Middle school students do not do well with unstructured time. I repeat – middle school students do not do well with unstructured time! It’s not you, it’s not your class, it is their AGE. Don’t ever plan on having more than two minutes available for them to hang out. If you happen to have more than two minutes unexpectedly, have time fillers readily available. If you’ve just got nothing in that moment, instruct them how they should behave in the time available. They do not know how to do so without that instruction, and their behavior will soon get in the way.
“Don’t be hard on yourself, each day is a new day.” – Jessica E.
Hard days can be just that, hard. When you’ve had a particularly difficult day, take tangible steps to make sure that the next day will be better. If possible, take the evening off, and get yourself out of that “teaching headspace.” Then, take measurable steps to make sure that you will have some small joy the next day. Make yourself a nice lunch. Have your clothing ready the night before. The next morning, breathe deep, and focus on teaching your classes in the best way that you can.
“Middle school is like waking up in a new world every morning. Enjoy your experience and be flexible with the plans – not with the structure.” – Glen R.
Sometimes you’ll walk into school with a fantastic new lesson that just flops. The kids are confused, and they leave class not really understanding what the lesson was about in the first place. Don’t rely upon the same lesson for the next class period. Even some minute changes to the lesson that second time can make all the difference.
“Rely on your fellow teachers. Ask questions, ask more questions, continue asking questions.” – Sara B.
Yes, you may find that there are some teachers who are best to avoid whenever possible. Still, don’t feel like you have to row the boat alone. If you have a question, make sure to ask! You’ll find that most teachers are overflowing with answers and wisdom.
“Relationship building is the most important thing. If they know that you genuinely care for them not only on an academic level but personally as well, you will have fun.” – Ubuntu U.
Talk to students about topics other than your class. Ask about their lives, and do so with students on an individual basis. If they feel that you are interested in them as people, they will be more likely to respond to your teaching, and act reasonably as students. Plus, they will definitely make you laugh. Middle schoolers are inherently funny.
” Get the kids up and moving at least once during class.” – Kelly M.
It’s extremely difficult for all of us to sit still for 40 minutes, and even more difficult for students. Even if your lesson doesn’t officially involve movement that day, try to work in small ways for students to move around the room. If reading in pairs, I have them change partners every five minutes. I might have them bring any work they were completing up to me for a check. If students are moving around during the period, it will significantly cut down on any behavior that might otherwise occur.
“Don’t teach from your desk! Walk around.” – Michelle N.
This will save your sanity and it will help your students. I am constantly checking on my students learning by literally bending over next to them and reading their work. They know that I want to see what they can produce. They also know that I read what they write. Secondly, try to make your teaching more about them than about you. When they’re producing the content and working cooperatively or individually, you will have to go to them for any support!
“Speak slowly, and enunciate.” Allison B.
This piece of advice is actually from me! I’m a really fast talker. Words spill out of me a mile a minute. Over my teaching career, however, I’ve learned to speak slowly and clearly, and enunciate my words. I’ve found that enunciation can really make a difference in whether that day’s lesson is understood and absorbed.
“So my biggest suggestion would be to learn about middle schoolers and how they act and think. Then the rest will fall into place.” – TaShena M.
I think TaShena sums it up pretty well. If you’re a first year middle school teacher, the most important steps to take involve listening, observing, and seeking understanding. Everything else will fall into place.
Do you have questions as a first year middle school teacher? Or, do you have some advice for a first year middle school teacher? Add your comments below.