Middle-schoolers And Teachers

I’d like to start this column with a big shout out to all the teachers of middle schoolers those youngsters hovering between childhood and the big, scary adult years beyond. October is the Month of the Young Adolescent and Gail Vannatta, president of the Hawaii Association of Middle Schools, says it’s time we focus on the positives. Kids in middle school need a lot of our attention.

“I know it sounds like one of those things that’s overused, but it takes a village to raise a child.”

Vannatta points out that a lot of what we see and hear is gloomy when it comes to kids of this age. The news is full of stories of teens and preteens getting into trouble, being bullied and getting hurt. All of that negativity can discourage kids, alienate them and lead them to believe life is hopeless or too complicated. They’re particularly vulnerable to the social messages they receive from us, Vannatta says, because they’re going through a lot of changes physical and emotional.

“Hormones are surging. There are all the boy/girl things does he, does she like me? Oftentimes they’re like little puppies their feet have grown, their bodies have grown, but their motor skills have not caught up. Youths at this age are preoccupied with self, but they tend not to talk about it a lot.”

I laugh in recognition as Vannatta describes a parent trying to communicate with her middle school child:

“How was your day?” “Fine.”

“What did you do in school?”


“What did you have for lunch?”


And the parent wonders, wow, what happened to my child? But this is something natural. At this particular age they’re trying to establish their own identities.

“They have so much energy within them,” Vannatta says. “It’s like the motion of the ocean, you can hardly keep them still.”

All of that energy needs to be channeled. Maturing minds need to be challenged. They need positive experiences, role models and lots of activities to keep them busy. “Research shows kids actively involved in co-curricular activities student government, sports, clubs tend to have higher grades, and the drop out rate is lower.”

The best teachers of middle schoolers are able to recognize that their students can show flashes of brilliance one moment, and then act out like goofy little kids the next. They’re like instant-change chameleons. They’re moody.

The teachers who choose to work with this age are patient, flexible and firm, able to anticipate and react quickly. They care.

But while the middle years are challenging for the parents and the teachers, they’re most stressful for the kids.

It helps to know, Vannatta says, that they are looking to us, the adults in their lives, to show them the way. They want good role models. They want positive experiences and feedback. They need guidance on moral and ethical issues. They want to know what the world has to offer. They need us.

So don’t think of the middle school years as difficult.

Think of them as an opportunity.