Dispelling 4 Middle School Myths

Middle school students can be mesmerizing. Member Carol Whitworth says despite 20 plus years of teaching at all levels, she finds “the greatest satisfaction” in working with middle school students. “Middle school students astonish me with their insight, curiosity, wit, desire to do well, and most importantly, their musical promise!”

“Being a middle school music teacher and witnessing the wonderful musical growth that takes place during those three shorts years is unbelievably fulfilling. I propose you forget what you may have heard or believed to be true about teaching middle school and enjoy these great kids!”

There are four “myths” about middle school students that Whitworth wants dispelled.

MYTH #1: Middle school students are aliens and should be avoided: False!

“Admittedly, there are days when middle school students can behave like aliens. But, 12–14 year olds are, in fact, human beings. More often than not, they prove to be likable, interesting and very teachable.”

Whitworth admits it’s a luxury to have the same group of students three years running (6th–8th grades). It allows her to establish a “meaningful relationship” with these students.

A few words of insight shared by Whitworth:

Establish procedures and daily routines, and outline expectations. Doing so will help students grow, become more independent in 7th and 8th grades, and help reduce discipline problems. This practice will help form mutually respectful relationships.

Whitworth cautions: “Middle school students are not your friends. You can and should be friendly, but not friends.” Friends are people you invite over for dinner on Saturday, and your students’ friends are those invited to their parties.

If students have issues in their home lives that impact their school performance, ideally, students can confide privately to you, if necessary. Whitworth believes it’s inappropriate to get involved with your students’ personal lives. “TMI is TMI”. She also believes the classroom is not the place to disclose private information about your own life.

Middle school students deserve the same support, respect and consideration as students of all ages. Leave the sarcasm, humiliation or other negative approaches behind.

Keep your relationship with your students positive. If it’s not so positive at the moment, strive to improve it.

Students recognize when they ‘re treated consistently, and when they’re treated with respect, fairness and genuine concern.

When problems or issues arise, have a stern conversation if necessary, but do it privately for maximum effectiveness. Think how you’d feel if the principal had a stern word with you in front of all the other teachers!

Final word on Myth #1: Middle school students will have “days of drama”. These “dramas” (from relationships, to missing an audition, messing up a test, etc.) are “very real” to students of this age. This very “intensity”, according to Whitworth, is one of the many qualities that make working with and teaching these students so “enjoyable”.

Adapted from “I teach middle school choir: No sympathy necessary“; Carol Whitworth, Chinook Middle School, WA; from the Washington Music Educators Association journal VOICE, October, 2009

–Sue Rarus, October 6, 2011, © National Association for Music Education