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March Is Middle Level Education Month

Here are 5 things Middle Schoolers wish their teachers knew

March is Middle Level Education Month, a special time for educators who are dedicated to the success of middle school students. It is a month when they come together to raise awareness of this age group's unique challenges and opportunities.

As the National Association of Secondary School Principals puts it, these students make up the "Magnificent Middle." They are at a crucial stage of their lives, undergoing considerable physical, emotional, and cognitive changes.

It's important we acknowledge and address their needs, not just in March but throughout the year. With mental health issues being on the rise and middle school being a poignant time for prefrontal cortex development, teachers and administrators, more than ever, need to be seeking out meaningful, personal connections with their students.

This can all start with one question: What do students wish their teachers knew about them?

Five common truths continue to be mentioned again and again, in responses that date back more than a decade ago.

I want them to know how hard I'm trying.

Teachers often know, but don't acknowledge it enough. Instead of comparing them to others or pointing out role models of high-achieving students, offer unrelenting support for those who are making progress. Even if it's the slightest difference.

How can you help? Send a note home to their parents or guardians telling them the progress you've seen. Find the positive and highlight it. It can make all the difference in multiple relationships.

I wish they would believe me.

It's easy to blame the problem child in the class…there always seems to be that one. But have a conversation with them and see if you can get to the root of the problem. There's a chance they could be acting out for a reason - overtiredness, hunger, loneliness, and more.

How can you help? Be a solution for that child. Give them a gift. Ask about their favorite music. Find their interests and encourage it. Reframe their actions to find the positive. Allow them to speak to you and teach you about something. (Remember, that angsty tween was once a chubby-cheeked, spunky kindergartener.)

I see when they are unhappy and want to help.

Teachers and administrators affect the mood of their school, and can often do it with a single smile, or wave, or compliment. We're all stressed, but we don't want that vibe to spill over into the classroom or school building. Kids feel that vibe and they feed off of it until it's a throbbing sore.

How can you help? Smile. Be honest. Compliment. Smiles are contagious and can often change their mood. If you're stressed, be honest and admit it - ask them to smile and be gentle with you today. Then look for ways to compliment them. You'll be surprised how quickly that trend catches on in your classroom and school if you continue to model it.

I always feel like I don't have enough time to get things done.

Kids are overscheduled, overworked, and overtired, a reflection of their looming future adult lives. Ironically, these seem to be part of the refrain of teachers, administrators, and most adults. Recognize this. They need "me time," too.

How can you help? Be the one teacher who doesn't give "homework." Give them the work in class and allot a scheduled portion of class time for completing it. What they don't complete can be homework.

Home is hard.

We educators know it. We know home life isn't always peachy. Even what seems to be a perfect situation is often a hot mess. Encourage students to seek out someone to talk to, like the guidance counselor. Invite them to journal to release stress. Be an outlet for their truth, a sensitive ear to listen.

How can you help? Listen for the why. Why is their assignment late? Why don’t they have a pencil? Why are they always falling asleep in class? The answer might surprise you. And always listen for the dangerous, the questionable, and seek support from other colleagues to support them in the best way possible.

For this Middle Level Education Month, let's commit to being a part of the solution by reframing, questioning, listening, and reacting positively in your middle schoolers' lives. They're desperately seeking something true in their lives, and we can be that for them if we know what to do.


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