This article is compliments of The Art of Education.
My mom always says it takes a special person to teach middle schoolers. (She taught middle school, so I’m not sure what she was getting at, but I have to say, I agree.) Middle school is not for the weak. That said, it’s also not as scary as people make it out to be. Sure, most middle schoolers are unpredictable balls of hormones who make very trying decisions at times. But, on the flip side, they can be incredibly sweet, naive, and funny. Not to mention, they can crank out some seriously amazing art.
If this is your first time teaching middle school, then we’ve rounded up some of our best advice for you.
Here are 10 things you need to know about your first year teaching middle school art.
1. Don’t take behavior personally.
While this advice rings true for any teacher, it can be especially difficult not to take things personally at the middle school level. AOE Instructor, Anna Nutall, explains, “It’s not about you, it’s about them. Middle schoolers are experiencing SO much emotionally, developmentally, socially, and otherwise. Treat every day as a new day and respond to their hearts and minds, not their words and moods. In this way, you’ll find the best in them!”
2. Be aware some middle schoolers have a LOT more on their plates than you know about.
It might surprise you when you find out some of the things your students are dealing with. AOE Writer, Lee Ten Hoeve, says, “You might not know the amount of pain, suffering, and home issues these kids are dealing with. So many young people are carrying some very heavy stuff on their shoulders today. Sometimes they are adrift. Give them a place to drop anchor and feel secure in who they are right now and who they are becoming.”
3. Be a real person.
In a middle school classroom, being authentic is extremely important. AOE Writer, Abby Schukei, advises, “Be real. Be your authentic self. If you’re not, middle schoolers will see right through you and managing them will be difficult. Middle schoolers long for independence, but they also hold on to much of their innocence. They need you to affirm and encourage them. As much as they put up a front, they want your approval. So don’t be afraid to be honest and have truthful conversations with them.”
Anna echoes this sentiment saying, “While we need to be professional, responsible, structured, and filtered, we also need to acknowledge real feelings, emotions, challenges, and life experiences. Remember what they say might not be what they really think or feel – the pressure of their social environment is incredible.”
4. Tap into student interests right away.
Motivation can be a huge issue in a middle school classroom. Often, teachers find themselves complaining that the kids are apathetic or uninterested in the projects or curriculum. It doesn’t have to be this way! One thing to do from the beginning is to really get to know your students and where their interests lie.
Anna suggests you, “Find their individual FIRE.” She goes on to say, “If you can get to know them personally in some way, connect to them as an individual. You will know how best to ‘reach ’em and teach ’em’ and it can make all the difference in getting their best work out of them. Intrinsic motivation is the key to amazing art. If you get them invested, excited, and engaged you can keep raising the bar higher and higher and they will reach it and jump over it with their incredible ideas, art, and passion.”
5. Don’t make yourself an island.
At the middle school level, it can be especially difficult to get to know your other colleagues. You don’t have teachers dropping classes at your door like at the elementary level, and you probably don’t have a full art department like you might at the high school level. Therefore, it’s extra important to make an effort to meet and talk with the other teachers in your building. Start by connecting with other teachers in the same situation, like the music or tech ed teacher. They will see some of your same students, so you can brainstorm when troubling situations arise.