When people find out I am a teacher, I proudly let them know that I teach middle school students. Inevitably, the reply includes phrases such as “I could never do that” and “Wow, you have a really tough job.” Even teachers of other levels seem to have a special pity for those who spend their day with 12–14-year-olds. Parents of middle schoolers come to me puzzled and/or frustrated by the stranger that has suddenly entered their home.
Those of us blessed to teach this age, though, have a different perspective—at least most of the time. Raging hormones, sudden growth spurts, and complete brain blips might be common. But they are all part of the challenge and joy of this age. Rather than choosing an ostrich-like approach of ignoring the issues, teachers, parents and even students need to embrace the changes and direct the choices.
Specially Set Apart
The reason so many shy away from middle schoolers has to do with the change they exhibit in so many ways each day. Their body size and brain maturity don’t always match our expectations. Something or someone they like today, they may hate tomorrow. Fickleness does not create fondness. Yet this stage of changing from child to teen and heading towards adulthood causes middle schoolers to need stability and approval more than at any other time so far. The decisions they are making now will directly influence their actions of tomorrow, which specially sets them apart to need our guidance.
Teachers and parents can best help their middle schoolers by responding to their needs, encouraging them as they try something new, and teaching them to deal with life’s pressures with a biblical foundation. The adults in their life should work together on this, not against each other. Respect is key, and our words about each other speak loudly to these young ears. Taking time to listen to their thoughts and letting them know you are checking in on their time and technology are also important in middle schoolers’ growth process.
Surviving with Joy
Being independent yet fitting in with others are two very important aspects to young people in this age group. Helping them understand, though, that God created each person with unique gifts and qualities can make a huge difference in their valuing both of themselves and of others.
The Psalmist wrote, “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well” (Psalm 139:14). Many young people in this world struggle with praising God for the way they look and think. Being different from others seems scary to anyone but especially to someone whose own body and thoughts seem foreign even to themselves. Realizing that learning differently and looking differently doesn’t make someone unusable to God or others can change a young person’s perspective immensely.
While a middle school young person will want independence and freedom, he doesn’t always understand how to accomplish all of his goals effectively or even how to acknowledge all of his goals. Organization and time management do not happen overnight when a child enters middle school. Even some adults prove that these aren’t natural processes for everyone!
Patiently guide your middle schooler by presenting a life pattern to imitate. Help them learn the right steps to be a life-long learner so that school is more than just survival to them. Developing the gifts God has given should be a joy to each one of us—whether the parent, teacher or student. Enjoy these fleeting years, and help them to do the same.