Monday, January 23, 2012

Middle school teachers, please remember...

It is January, and in my school district, we are on snow day number 4. Teachers have a love/hate relationship with snow days. And when they come at the end of a marking period, when teachers have so many things to do, the feelings tend toward hate. The pressure to cover curriculum, to keep kids engaged in the doldrums of winter, especially when those classrooms are packed to the rafters these days and teachers feel the stress of managing what often feels like a herd of cats...well, it makes for frustration and headaches.

In the long, dark winter months, it is so important to remember that our middle school students are KIDS first. So I just want to give you TWO important reminders.

1. Reminder number ONE: Middle school students' bodies are undergoing changes at a rate surpassed only by the time they are babies. Their growing and changing bodies make it IMPERATIVE and NECESSARY for them to move. All. The. Time. We must find ways to allow for movement in the classroom. Use exercise balls instead of chairs. Put podiums around the room so that they can stand when they need to. (On a related note, are you aware of the latest research about the effects on ALL OF US of sitting for too long? Here is one article on the topic.) This is just ONE of the many characteristics teachers should know about young adolescents. I encourage you to read the rest here, and think about how you honor this developmental stage in your classroom.

2. Reminder number TWO: Fair does not mean equal. Students in your classrooms have a wide range of abilities and varying amounts of home support. A student who reads 50 words per minute is going to take MUCH LONGER to read a page from the text book and answer questions than a student who reads 150 words per minute. When a teacher expects the slower readers to do the same amount of work, in the same amount of time, that teacher setting that learner up for failure. And when the teacher rewards that "failure" with lunch detention or lowered grades, that student's desire and motivation for learning diminishes.  Fair does not mean equal. You know your students. It is your job to give them what they need. Too many teachers worry that if they differentiate, students will rise up in protest. But in a caring classroom community, the teacher is not the only one who understands that fair does not mean equal.

Reflecting on your practice, and making changes to address the needs of young adolescents if needed, can make a huge difference in the happiness of both teacher and students in your classroom.