The transition to middle school means more opportunities for creative classes, learning, athletics and growth, but it can also create some of the toughest months for students.
The middle school years may bring about a sudden shock to families when it comes to social development, academic rigor and time demands of school.
Students suddenly go from having one main teacher each day to teachers for six different classes. The work is harder. The grading policies are tougher and more responsibility is placed on the student for his or her academic growth.
What that means is students and parents need to be certain they are aware of what is required of each class. Teachers care about the progress of each student, but now teachers are responsible for 150 or more students — rather than just 25 or 30 students. Parents may not hear from teachers as often, but may need to seek out information through websites or by sending a teacher an email.
The rigor of classes changes greatly at middle school. Students at Higley’s Cooley and Sossaman middle schools write responses to literature, study geometry and ratios, discover Earth and space sciences, explore American history, and likely learn a foreign language.
There may be situations where — despite the best efforts — students get their first “C” grade or lower on an assignment or test. Setbacks are a part of the learning. Hold students accountable. Value the worth ethic they put into their education. Learning from setbacks now — and learning the best response to these setbacks — will better prepare students for high school and college. It is critical that parents commend their children on putting forth their best efforts in spite of less-than-desirable outcomes at times. Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck speaks to this approach in Chapter 3 of her book “Mindset.”
At Cooley Middle School, we know students can make improvements. That is why there are opportunities to relearn, rework and retest when appropriate.
Middle school is also a time for students to challenge themselves and explore interests. That is why counselors may have encouraged your child in the spring to sign up for that advanced or accelerated class. They are not meant to be easy classes. These are growth opportunities.
Intelligence can be developed over time. Children grow through application and experience. Parents need to view any setback as a learning opportunity, not as a reflection of themselves or their child.
With the pre-teen and teen years comes a lot of physical development, as well. Those hormones may have parents wondering, “Who is this child in my home?”
If your student now seems to be developing anti-social behaviors or has decreased self-esteem, realize this is normal. All young people go through this and you’re not alone. Peer judgment may put increased pressure on a pre-teen, raising an emotional response unseen until now. Spend time with your child and try asking the tough question — even when they don’t want to answer. Show you care about what they’re struggling with and they may come around to share their thoughts. Students need to understand that everyone at this age feels insecurities and struggles with peer acceptance perceptions. It is critical that students are provided praise and understanding for who they are as a person.
• Dr. Randy Mahlerwein is principal at Cooley Middle School in the Higley Unified School District.