Middle School Babies

A school that has grades K-8 is very lucky. We see the kids growing up from tiny little kindergarteners coming with timid smiles and uniforms that are too big to oversized eighth graders with their pubescent acne and jittery tempers. It’s a gift really. We get to watch these little children become a shade of what they will be as adults. We really get to know the students. We see and recognize their strengths and their weaknesses. We watch their fears and insecurities develop and fade. We see them become mathematicians, explorers, discoverers, writers, and linguists. We get to see them laugh at funny inside jokes and cry at hurtful comments. We get to be a part of making them who and what they become. But even, at the end of our time together as students and teachers, our children are still exactly that, children.

Middle school consists of some tough years. The students shift from babies to adolescents who truly feel that they know best. But they don’t. Not only that, but they don’t really know what is best, not for others and certainly not for themselves. It is our job as their educators to teach them….a lot.

In sixth grade our students come to us as babies. They are scared, noisy, and extremely dependent. Even by eighth grade the students need constant reminding, reassuring, and moderating. They need to be told what to do and how to do it in most aspects of their life. And I think some middle school teachers don’t understand this. I think this is one of the reasons why middle school teachers experience frustration, anger, and even the urge to throw in the towel.

It’s not enough to give middle school students directions, the book pages, the videos, nor even the expectations for the assignments. These special students who are caught between childhood and adulthood need constant guidance and observation. They need clarification and answers to about a million questions. They need review and practice. Their minds aren’t on academics, they are on everything else. It’s our jobs as educators to make them focus on their studies, to help them understand word problems, to guide them on the discovery of new ideas, to redirect their attention. Teaching middle school students cannot happen from your chair behind your desk. As a teacher you have to constantly walk around the room; urge; clarify; motivate; and praise. You have to correct negative behavior and reward good. You have to find different ways to motivate and explain difficult concepts. Teaching middle school students should and is exhausting.

Middle school students may be big. They may be intimidating at times, but they are still babies. You can’t forget that if you want to run a smooth and efficient classroom.

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It’s Been a While

It’s been a while. Amy and I have been a bit overwhelmed with our outside world. The school year is coming to a head with all the high school acceptance and denial letters. Students are stir crazy because of the crazy weather, and if you haven’t heard, three of our twenty-one books are available to buy.

It’s been a crazy year. Because I’m an educator the year for me starts in August and ends in June. You would be surprised how true this is for most teachers. Our schedule revolves around our school responsibilities. So for me, this has been a crazy year.

It’s February. More than half the school year is over. We are on the downslide. As an administrator I am in a different position. Instead of having total focus on where my students have to be by the end of the year, I am focused on where our school has to be at the end of the year AND where it is heading for the new year. Without knowing who the new principal is, this is difficult.

Let me tell you what I am focusing on:
– The Third Grade Guarantee – another stupid law passed by politicians with good intentions. Of course we want all of our students on grade level, but with outside factors weighing heavily against academic achievement, this is just not possible for all kids. Let’s excuse the fact that all kids learn at different speeds and in different ways. Let’s just look at the outside influences that negatively effect the rate that student’s learn. (Low Socioeconomic levels, divorce, drug and alcohol abuse, neglect, ELL issues, stress) Tutoring is underway in our school to get every student where they need to be by state and federal standards.
– Getting 8th graders ready for high school – This is big for me. I’ve been teaching in the “upper school” for a number of years and I have made it personal. I want my babies prepared academically, socially, and emotionally. High school is a big jump and our kids are used to being taken care of. I want them to become self-sufficient and ready to tackle all the responsibilities needed to succeed in high school.
– Behavior Issues. Some students are showing cracks in their behavior. We are at the time of year when school becomes mundane. They have hit a rut and it shows. The kids want to be physical. Many are like brothers and sisters so they argue and joke until it’s not funny anymore. They bug and annoy and then yell and cry. Drama is at its peak and sometimes it wears. With everything else, it’s important to stay consistent, but it’s hard and tiring. I’m trying.
– Scholarships – I never had to really worry about the big scholarships as a teacher, but now our two major scholarships are sitting on my shoulders. It’s a bit scary since I’m filling big shoes. The last teacher in charge was amazing and fought for every cent earned by our students for our students.
– So many more small things – Writer’s Pot, after-school study tables, behavior sheets, parent meetings, IAT meetings, duties, committees, family groups, and school communication.

I’m trying to keep everything straight. It’s been a crazy year.

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This past weekend I went to visit my mother. Her birthday is this week so I went in to celebrate with her. My mother is an amazing woman. She has overcome so many obstacles yet she is always trying to look at the positive side. My sister and her husband and my niece and her husband all went to dinner. As I sat across the table from my family it dawned on me how hard of a life we all have had at one time or another. My parents raised six children and put us all through Catholic school. We did not have a lot of money; we had love, work ethic, support, and most importantly our faith.

My niece has a rare blood disease that really is so rare they haven’t diagnosed it 100% yet. She worked to pay for college and graduated with a master’s degree in 5 years with honors. There were times she was so sick she could hardly move. She also broke her ankle falling down stairs and still went to classes even though it was quite a challenge. She also lost one of her very best friends in a car accident. Talk about one tough cookie, she is beyond tough.

After my brother-in-law had a major stroke he went through rehabilitation. He qualified for disability, yet he went back to his job, although the job he had was too challenging for his motor skills from the stroke he accepted a more physically challenging lesser one just so he could keep working.

My sister has helped so many people I could never count them all. She was the mom to many of my niece’s friends while they were in high school and she always is doing something kind for church members, neighbors, family, or co-workers.

My father was a loving father and husband, treated his mother with the utmost respect, was a deeply faith-filled man, and role model to many. He was a decorated war hero and many are alive today because of him.

My mother still visits the nursing home where my father was for three years to see the women she befriended while she sat with my dad every single day. You don’t think that is hard for her to do? It is heart wrenching, but she is tough enough to do it, with God’s grace.

Okay, so what is the point? I am from a family of gentle fighters. We go to battle everyday to try to make this world better.  This is who we are to our core. When someone attacks this because they have their own agendas it is hard to accept.  I will carry on, as will all of my family members. You can’t keep people down when they have their hearts in the right place.

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Trust is a tricky business. We all take it for granted really and we don’t realize how tenuous it is until it is lost. And when you think about it, it doesn’t take much to lose a person’s trust; a lie, a joke at one’s expense, a rumor, a betrayal. All hurtful actions and the ones I named can all be committed by words. Hurtful words.

In order to effectively teach at-risk students, teachers have to develop trust. It’s not a given. It is something that is earned. But it goes both ways and I think this isn’t discussed in educational literature very much.

I’ve said it before, teaching is a personal thing. Teachers invest their time, heart, money, and talents into their job. If they are good teachers, they leave nothing on the table. They invest in their profession with much more than money; they invest their passion. Many teachers I have met take criticism very personally, even when the criticism is constructive. They want to be good. They want to help. They want to make a positive difference in their students’ lives. This takes trust.

When a dedicated teacher creates his lessons, he takes the learning styles of his children into account. He KNOWS his students. He has done pre assessments. He has observed his students, watched them during projects and tests, watched them write and think. He knows what frustrates his students and what motivates them to strive to do better. He basically caters his lessons to the needs of his students.

Every student on the face of the earth learns differently. If you look at research, you can even see commonalities between cultural groups, students from the same socio-economic levels, and genders. It’s a fact. Certain people are more likely to learn certain ways. In order to figure out the best ways to teach the particular students in a classroom, teachers need to know where they come from, know their family dynamics, know what language they speak at home, and problems that could be getting in the way of their learning. This takes time and dedication. This takes conversations, observations, nudging and prodding, asking. It takes relationship building. It takes trust.

When a teacher gets to the point where she knows her students, there is a bond that has been created. This bond in tenuous and this bond is built on time, energy, and trust. At this point the teacher can tell when something is bothering her student, when her student is happy and excited, when she is withdrawn, and when he is in crisis. She now has to look beyond the academics and weigh the student’s mood and attitude against the importance of a learning standard. What has to be done to help this student overcome her emotions in order to focus on her learning? And their moods DO affect their learning.

When trust is broken, for whatever reason and by whomever, learning suffers. Trust is what binds everything together. Trust makes a student want to learn and a teacher want to help his student succeed. Trust makes a teacher root for success and growth and makes a student yearn and work towards growth.

Trust is everything and trust goes both ways.

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A Little Reminder

Every child deserves the very best education possible.

This is Amy’s and my core belief. Our goal is to spread the word. To share our experiences with other teachers so that they remain committed to ALL of the children in their classrooms. We want to inspire all educators to fight through the frustrations and to realize that everyone has bad days, but the triumphs are worth the battles.

All children learn differently. We are starting to hear this more and more. With this knowledge comes huge responsibilities because it truly takes dedication and a strong knowledge base to adapt teaching styles to meet the various needs of learners. Do you remember the word “modalities”? This was an A+ word at teacher interviews years ago. The thought was and is that some students learn better by listening, some are visual learners, and others still are tactile. In reality all kids do best by utilizing all of these skills and senses. All students learn more by doing. Because this is true, teachers must develop lessons that get kids out of their seats doing research, creating visuals, developing visuals and presentations. Teachers must also first teach the core concepts in interesting and thought provoking ways so their students understand what and how to research. This is a big job, especially when students come into the classrooms at different levels. Some may not have the schema development to support and aid in imagery of difficult concepts. Teachers need to bridge these gaps.

Amy and I want to help teachers do this. Not only that, but we want to be great at doing all that ourselves. This takes a lot of time, research, effort, and dedication. We would not do this if we didn’t love our children and believe with every breath of our being that they can learn, that they can be great, that with the right help – they can reach their full potentials.

We are educators….hear us roar!!

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