Middle School is tricky in a normal year, and the added stress of starting in the middle of a global pandemic has altered our expectations of what this school year will bring. Middle school is typically 7th and 8th grade, although some districts include 6th graders. Adolescence is a tough stage of human development, and shoving 1000 tweens and teens under one roof can be quite interesting.
In the Education world, middle school teachers are typically looked upon as being either crazy or superheroes and sometimes both. Adolescents are moody, unpredictable, and amazing. They never fail to surprise even the most seasoned educator. In a previous life, I was a middle school counselor. I can honestly say that it was my favorite job in my 20 years as an educator. As much as I did love it, I do wish there were some things that parents of middle schoolers knew before the school year started.
Here are just a few suggestions to help with Back to School planning for your Middle Schooler.
- Attitude is everything – For most of us, school will be virtual in the beginning. We all know this isn’t ideal for students or teachers. Teachers are just as unhappy about not seeing students in person as parents are. Start now on helping mentally prepare your child for virtual classes. Yes, it’s hard not seeing your friends every day, and yes attendance still counts. Starting the year with a positive attitude and helping your child through some rough days is much easier than trying to turn around a negative attitude. Remember that you and your child will get out what you put into it.
- Give your schedule a chance- As a counselor, I used to get a million requests for schedule changes, and it was overwhelming. Some of the requests were legitimate, but mostly it was that the student didn’t think they were going to like the teacher, or didn’t know anyone in the class. Make sure your child actually attends their classes (whether virtually or in-person), and is able to articulate why a schedule change is best. If a schedule change is required, make the request as soon as possible and be patient. But please don’t ask for a schedule change on the first day of school, unless there is an actual mistake with the classes.
- Be Open to Making New Friends – Leaving elementary school often means leaving behind friends you’ve had since Kindergarten. Fortunately, in middle school, there are hundreds of new kids every year. Students should be open to making new friends. For students who struggle with this, middle school is often a time when they flourish. Being surrounded by new students gives some kids an opportunity to start fresh with making friends, free from any hangups leftover from elementary. Middle schools also have lots of clubs and organizations for students with common interests to gather. Encourage your child to take a risk, and try out for athletics, or try out a new hobby. There should be plenty of options.
- Self-Advocacy – As a parent, it’s easy to make an angry phone call or fire off an email when your child comes home upset. But it doesn’t teach your child how to advocate for him/herself or how to problem solve. So when trouble happens, please give the school a chance to help your child navigate through it. That’s not to say that you should never call the school with an issue. If something happens that endangers your child, or is negatively impacting their mental wellbeing, please don’t hesitate to call the school immediately. But if the issue is less serious, help your child come up with a strategy that they can do on their own, and if that doesn’t work, then by all means contact the school.
- Communication is Key – Keeping the lines of communication open between you and your middle schooler will be critical during middle school. Sometimes it might seem as though your child is trying to push you away, but s/he certainly still needs you. You might have to get creative in how you connect. Instead of asking “How was school today”, try something more specific. One question that I ask my daughter to spark a conversation is, “What is one funny thing that happened today?” I found more great questions on the Edutopia website. And when you do ask one of these questions, DON’T INTERRUPT! Finally, if you child has social media, make sure that you are following those accounts. You can learn a lot about what goes on at school through social media, both good and bad.
- Tips for In-Person School – If your child will attend school in person this year, there a few additional things to do before schools starts. If this is a new school, try to get a map of the school beforehand to help learn where everything is. Bathrooms are important. Passing periods are short, and tardies are taken seriously. Your child also needs to learn how to open a combination lock if students will be issued lockers. Buy a cheap combo lock and practice, practice, practice. I’ve opened more lockers for crying, frustrated students than I can count. Finally, make sure your child has memorized his/her Student identification number. That number is used on almost every document, and it’s much easier if students know their number without having to look it up.
Hopefully, these suggestions help as you and your middle schooler plan for the first day of school.
Most importantly of all this school year, we must adjust our expectations. This is not normal, and it is not fair to our students and teachers to pretend that it is. Districts, schools, teachers, and families are trying to simply do the best they can until the situation changes and we can do better. School this year is going to bring unique challenges, whether it is in-person or virtual.