Finding My Middle School Mojo

Ok, time to start reflecting on the past school year.  I’m going to start with how I found my Middle School Mojo.

This past September I started in a new teaching position as one of two teachers in my district’s Gifted Program.  The program is for students in grades 1 – 8 and is a pull in program; students spend part of one day a week with me learning in a theme-based program.


As a high school trained teacher who has spent most of her career teaching students in grades 8 – 12 this was a big change for me, but one that I was looking forward to.  At the beginning of the school year I found that I connected well with the grade 4 and 5s, but had difficulty “hitting the target” with both my younger students and my middle school students.

Part of my problem in the beginning with my middle school group (grades 6 – 8 ) was that I didn’t really have a good understanding of what the program should look like.  My own children had been in the elementary (gr 1 – 5) program for a number of years, so I had a pretty good idea of what went on there, but the middle school portion was a bit of mystery to me.  In addition, I only had one 1 hour block with them once a week and it was on Friday mornings.  This was challenging for a couple of reasons:

  1. An hour once a week doesn’t offer a lot of time to really sink your teeth into projects.  (Especially when many students would forget and show up part way through the class.  This did get better as the year progressed.)
  2. A lot of leadership and special activities occurred on Fridays, pulling students from my class.

Despite these challenges, after the winter break I felt like I was starting to get into a groove with the middle school class.  They were starting to gel as a group and I was discovering what sort of activities worked well with them.  This class went from being one that I was anxious about, to one that I looked forward to every week.  I started to worry less about having students follow my original game plan and I focussed more on providing them outlets with which to express their amazing creativity.

Near the end of the year we had an extended class where it was evident how much the students had grown and bonded together.  The creativity and confidence of the older students inspired all of the students to stretch and to try and rise to that same level.  They helped each other shoot video ads for their final project, celebrated in each others’ accomplishments and, when there was a bit of downtime, they would sing 80′s songs together acapella.  Nice!

There were a number of the key things that I learned from last year’s experience.  First, that it pays to be patient.  Those first two months I didn’t feel like I was hitting bullseyes very often, but I persisted and tried different approaches.  Second, that it takes time to get to know the students, and in a program like this the real magic happens once you start to figure out students strengths and start to make connections with them.  And third, it is ok to revise your original plan, especially when the revisions are centred around the strengths and needs of the students in your class.  

In a future post I’ll reflect on my steep learning curve with my younger students.  Cheers, and thanks for reading.

Image Credit: bullseye by Emilio Küffer, licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

4 comments to Finding My Middle School Mojo

  • Looking forward to hearing more about this journey — sounds like you made good progress last year. The program shuffle in Summerland means that Ivy won’t have a middle-school class any more (boo!), and Ella will get her class at Giant’s Head (yay!).

    • Hi Jeremy,
      Yes, it is a real shame that the middle school program has been cancelled. I hope that the shift to Giant’s Head works out well for the Summerland elementary students. And I’m looking forward to working with Ella!

  • Wow, that was a challenging assignment! How do you build a community of learners when you only see them for a short time once a week? And such a diverse range of ages! In the end though, it sounds like it worked out just great!

    Middle years students, in particular I find, take time to trust and relax enough to learn. In my experience (and hey – you’re one of only a few others I’ve met who’ve taught the whole range!), earning and keeping the trust of a 11-14 year old is very, very delicate and to try to do this in only a short period of time would be very difficult! All three of your key learnings at the end of the post were essential to your, and your students success! Great to see that things turned right around in the end!

    • Hi Errin,
      Yes, it was definitely difficult at first to build community. What really helped, and I should have mentioned this in the post, was that all but one of my middle school students were in the program in past years. This meant that they were used to the format and some of them already knew each other.