If you know a middle schooler, you know that pre-teens and young teens are not quite kids, but they are definitely not true teenagers or young adults yet. They are in that weird in-between stage that prepares them for all of the experiences they will have in high school and beyond.
They grapple with new freedoms and independence, make mistakes, act impulsively, and try to learn who they want to be in the world. As a life-long middle school teacher I may be an anomaly but I think these kids are the best kind of kids.
They are young enough to want my love, support, and attention, without all of the looming stresses high school (or thoughts of post-high school life) brings. But they are old enough that I can let them loose from time to time and watch them spread their wings. It’s the “sweet spot,” and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
As a middle school teacher there are three things that I would love for the parents of my students to know.
Three things to know about middle school students
1. Focus On Growth Over Grades
Based on the MANY email correspondences I have had over the past ten years as an educator, I see that one of the biggest challenges middle school parents face is managing grades and homework. It is the most popular topic of conversation between my students’ parents and myself each year.
Parents repeatedly email me to ask: What is missing? What can they still complete before the end of the quarter? What percentage of the grade is this test? How can they improve their grade? Do you accept late work?
Some kids are great at being independent and getting things done on time and doing well on their assignments. Others are not. And that’s okay. Pre-teens and young teens are at such varying stages of development, that you cannot expect them to be able to manage their time and produce work at the same level.
The most important thing to focus on as a parent is how much your student is growing. If your student is a straight A, high achiever, encourage them to reach out to their teachers for extension opportunities that highlight their talents. Find outside opportunities for them to compete academically, join a book club, tutor their peers, or participate in camps or other activities in areas of strength.
Show them that while As are great, the process of learning and figuring out how to develop their strengths is even better. Those are lifelong skills that extend well beyond the classroom.
If your student is on the other end of the spectrum and struggles with missing work or low grades, encourage them to take small steps to reach their goals. Set those goals together. If week one they had four missing assignments, shoot for only three the following week.
If they got a C on a test, encourage them to reach out to their teachers about corrections and other ways they can show their understanding of the content. And remember, even going from a 72% to a 75% IS growth. Focus on the positives and praise them for even the smallest of accomplishments. It will go a long way.
Regardless of your teen’s abilities, positive reinforcement is much more effective than constant hassling. We want your relationship with your student to be focused around support and love. We don’t want homework and grades to be a constant battle. I promise!!
Assignments are one way teachers gauge whether or not their students are learning. So, while it is a necessary part of the process, I can guarantee you that your student’s teachers do not want grades and homework to be a source of contention at home. Don’t let it become a frustration point for you or your student! If that happens, stop. Reset.
Encourage your student to reach out to his or her teachers for support when things get too difficult to manage at home. We are here, and we want to help!
2. Your Involvement Matters
I know most middle school parents are appreciative of the independence their kids are ready for and need. They are excited to start letting go of the reins and seeing if their student can succeed without their constant support. Some kids are ready for that. Some are not. Take it slow. Their executive functioning skills are still developing (and will for several more years), and they need your help to figure out organizational techniques, goal setting, time management, and problem solving.
Model good behaviors at home by not procrastinating, keeping your own lists and calendars, and showing them that it is possible to juggle multiple balls well at the same time with good organization in place. Talk to them about how they manage their time and commitments and provide constructive feedback if they are struggling.
Keep checking their grades. Hold them accountable for doing their “job” (aka: school). We also want them to be able to do this on their own, but we want them to be able to do it well, so they still need your guidance.
Let them know that you are invested in the things they care about right now. Read the books they are reading and talk to them about those titles. Ask them what they did in their classes at school. Watch a few shows on Netflix together.
Follow your kid’s social media accounts and interact with their posts (on that note: please monitor EVERYTHING your kids do on their phones- it isn’t an invasion of privacy, it’s parenting). Play Among Us and use words like “sus.” They will definitely roll their eyes at you, but I bet they will also smile.
Know who their friends are. Attend their sporting events and extracurricular activities, play video games together, and try your hardest to save some sacred downtime in your busy week to just spend time together. Your kids may say that they want to be left alone, and we all need space sometimes, but generally speaking, they want you there.
Show them that it is okay to try new things and be really bad at them (for me, it will definitely be video games…), but still have fun together. They will only be this age for a little while, so really try to enjoy each moment that you get to spend together, even if you don’t quite get the allure of that YouTuber…yet.
3. We’re In This Together
Middle school teachers get middle school kids. We are fully aware of the fact that they will make mistakes. We know they will get moody from time to time. We are expecting them to be impulsive and irrational every once in a while. We understand all of that, and that is precisely why we became middle school teachers.
There is nothing your kid could do that would stop us from loving them.
We’ve experienced some crazy things over the years, but no matter the student, we want all of them to be successful. We think about them, we pray for them, and we love them, even after they leave our classrooms.
You don’t ever need to apologize for your kid being a kid. As parents and teachers we have the common goal of seeing kids develop into the best people they can be. We are in this together but you are the most important piece of this puzzle. We are grateful that we get to come along for the ride. We may only be in your student’s life for a year or two, but we love them fiercely and will do anything we can to support them and you. We love this job because of your student.
So, while the pre-teen and early teens years will definitely have their ups and downs, know that this era is fleeting. Find the joy in it while it lasts, because it won’t last forever. Give them a few extra hugs, give them some grace, and know that your middle schooler’s teachers are here if you need them.
PS- If your child has had a great middle school teacher, let them know you appreciated them. Better yet, get your son or daughter to send them an email updating them on life. We love nothing more than getting an update and seeing the amazing people they have become.