Sending kids back to school is one of the most joyous occasions in a parent’s life. I know, you love your kids (and I love mine) but sending those precious little bundles off for seven or eight hours a day makes me love them just a little bit more, if you know what I mean.
Summer is long, folks.
But as a teacher — a middle school teacher to be exact – -the thrill I feel of sending my kids off on the big yellow bus is short-lived because I have to head directly to my own school to welcome someone else’s kids back.
When people hear I teach middle school, they immediately express sympathy and say something along the lines of, “I’m not sure how you can do that, you’re a better person than me.” And I just smile and agree that yes, I am a better person than you.
I feel the same way about kindergarten teachers, I don’t know how they do it. I couldn’t. Or nurses. Or our military. There are lots of jobs I don’t think I can do and I’m thankful, so thankful, that someone else is better equipped.
Teaching middle school is, let’s just say, an “acquired taste.” So if you’re not one of the select few who choose to spend their days around prepubescent twelve and thirteen year old kids, here are some things us middle school teachers would love for you to know as you’re dealing with your middle schooler or your middle school teacher.
We like your kids. No, really, we do.
Please don’t tell your children we don’t like them. It’s not true. We work hard to form relationships because it makes the learning environment better (and we truly like them!), so encourage your kids and keep your personal opinions to yourself. It only hurts your kids, trust me.
Help them become responsible.
Middle school is an awkward time, they’re no longer elementary “babies” but they’re not yet ready for the freedom of high school. It’s a hard time for parents too, as you find your new role with these soon-to-be teenagers. Start giving them more responsibility and hold them accountable for more things. Don’t bring their homework, gym clothes, or lunch money to them every time they forget it. Because then it won’t become important enough for them to remember on their own next time. Share with them how you stay organized and on top of things at work or at home so they can see that this responsibility thing isn’t a school skill, but a life skill. Show them how to be successful.
Don’t tell your kids they’re not good at a subject.
While it’s true that most of us are better at some things than others, telling your children they’re not good at math or reading or science or whatever it may be is immediately dropping their potential for success. Just because you’re not good at math doesn’t mean they can’t be. Just because you don’t really like to read doesn’t mean they will hate it too. Much of their success depends on your attitude about school and learning so please be as positive as possible about it so they can get the most out of their time at school. Even if you don’t feel positive about their (or your) school experience all the time, fake it.
I promise not to believe everything your kid says about home if you promise not to believe everything your kid says about school.
You remember the game Telephone? Keep that game in mind when your kids come home from school and share about their day. Take their stories with a grain of salt and if the stories still don’t feel right, call the teacher. Ask questions, but do it with a level head. Calling anyone with guns blazing before you hear all the details can’t end well for anyone. And chances are, you’re not getting the whole story from your kids. (Advice from the ornery kid who grew up to be the teacher.)
Be the parent, not the friend.
I get it, you raised some pretty cool kids and you want to be friends with them. But that’s not your job right now. They don’t need more friends, they need really great parents. Which means you have to do hard stuff like set boundaries, be consistent, and have high expectations for them so they can grow up to be awesome adults. Then you can be friends with them, but right now, they really need parents.
If you don’t teach, please don’t act like you know how to do my job.
Sharing what helps your student learn best or things that have worked in the past to make them successful = helpful. Telling me how to do my job when your student is just one of the hundred (or more) I deal with everyday = not helpful. And a little insulting, actually. Just because you went to school a long time ago doesn’t make you an expert in teaching. That’s like saying because I go to the doctor regularly, I could be a doctor. Or because I drive a car, I could probably build one. We are always open and welcoming to questions and concerns because we want your child to succeed just like you do, but treating our profession like something anyone off the street could do is dangerous to our profession and our students.
Read to your kids, they’re never too old.
I’m a thirty-two year old woman who still likes to hear good readers read aloud. And your middle schooler who thinks he or she is too cool for a babysitter or a bedtime probably likes it too. Reading to your kids, even at this age, is powerful. Find a series to read together. Talk about what you’re reading on your own and ask them what they’re reading at school. Ask the teacher to recommend a good trilogy to dive into. You’ll learn so much about your kids as you read together and spend intentional time sitting next to each other focusing on a book. It can be realistic fiction or fantasy, biography or romance, just find something you can both love and watch how it transforms your relationship.
And finally, it’s only middle school.
As my favorite retired teacher Mr. Quick always used to say: “It’s only middle school, folks.” These junior high years are some of the most awkward and painful years most of us will experience. All you have to do is look back at your old middle school yearbook to realize how ridiculous you looked. Read all the notes your friends wrote you on the inside cover too. If you’re not embarrassed by half of them you might not be human. All this to say that this too shall pass. Middle school is rough and wonderful and we’ll all make it out alive if we just stick together.