Career Questions: Teaching Middle School after Teaching High School
Q: This year with reductions in staff I’ve been assigned to teach 6th grade at the middle school after several years at the high school. As a high school teacher, my classroom management problems were minimal. Now I feel like a first year teacher all over again. I like my students (although not as much as I did at the beginning of the year), and I think they like me. But they ignore my directions, they talk when I’m talking, and they can’t seem to remember to raise their hands instead of shouting out answers. I’m at my wit’s end. I don’t want to talk to my principal because I don’t want her to think I can’t manage my classroom. But I’m not having a lot of fun and I’m not sure how effective I am with my students.
A: I can sympathize. I had a similar move when I was teaching. I went from teaching high school juniors and seniors to teaching eighth graders. It’s an entirely different world!
I can give you a few suggestions. First of all, give one direction at a time, not a series of directions, and stand still when you are giving
directions. Never talk over the class. Start class as soon as the bell rings, and don’t let kids get comfortable just socializing for the first
few minutes. Put students on the clock: For example, you can say, “You have 15 seconds to get out your books and a clean sheet of paper.” Check frequently for understanding: “Class, open your books to page 29. What page should you be on, John? Right, 29.” I strongly recommend that you don’t do any group work until you are comfortable that you can bring kids back to attention within 20 seconds. Finally, if you don’t want to seek your principal’s help, ask a successful veteran teacher if you can observe her class or ask her to observe yours.
Managing a middle school classroom requires a different set of skills from managing a high school classroom, so in some ways it is like being a first-year teacher all over again. Middle schoolers are highly energetic, enthusiastic, and easily distracted by all the personal and social changes they are going through. They can be challenging, but they can also be a lot of fun and pretty delightful because they’re still excited about learning and school. Talk to a trusted colleague so you and your students can enjoy the rest of the year. I ended up teaching middle school (and loving it) for almost 10 years!