The middle school transition

Middle school has always been the most difficult segment of a student’s education (“These Academics Spent $1.35 To Make Middle School Less Awful. Here’s How,” Time, Aug. 3).  Not only do they have to adjust to the physical move from a familiar neighborhood elementary school to a larger place, but they are also dealing with the effects of puberty.

Once hormones begin to make their presence felt, young people find trying to handle school work much more difficult than ever before.  That’s why it’s so important for them to have teachers who can help them adjust. Positive relationships can make a huge difference in how students navigate.  The trouble is that middle school teachers don’t spend nearly as much time with their students as elementary teachers do.  As a result, it’s harder for them to get to know their students and vice versa.

Middle school is also when young people sharpen their study habits. Material is not spoon fed to them as it was in lower grades.  Unless parents step in to reinforce the importance of doing homework, too many students fall behind, which sets them up for dropping out.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

4 Replies to “The middle school transition”

  1. Agree but would add that, by middle school, the students who entered kindergarten below grade level re vocabulary, neural pathway development and cognitive skill development — and who therefore found academic work difficult/frustrated — pretty much give up on the academic work. They turn to more significant misbehavior to relieve the frustration and/or gain peer approval. Related thought — students who had an established identity/friend network in the neighborhood K-5 elementary school, when they enter middle school, lose that established identity/friend network and will have to create a new identity/friend network. For the students who are unable to succeed academically, the need to create that new identity/friend network will favor aberrant behavior in middle school in order to attract attention/peer approval.


  2. Labor Lawyer: Students who can’t handle academic work, get frustrated and become disruptive need vocational training or they will eventually drop out. Yet we persist in the fiction that everyone is college material. Little wonder that we have the problem we do.


    1. More fundamentally, most of them need better parenting from birth through kindergarten so that they hit kindergarten with “grade level” vocabulary, cognitive skills and neural development. Absent better parenting from birth through kindergarten, they need tracking so that they are in classes with other kids who are similarly below grade level + can be taught at below grade level (so they can actually do the work/feel positive about school) + can have smaller classes and/or an extra adult in the class to help accelerate them up to grade level.

      And yes — whether they catch up to grade level or not, many/most of these kids would be much better off in life if the school system (and society generally) offered them quality voc ed and respect as skilled tradespeople.


  3. Labor Lawyer: Attempts to help parents better prepare their toddlers for school are often resented despite the best of intentions. Parents view them as intrusive and insulting. Tracking, which I believe in, is further attacked as demeaning. I see little hope in reversing matters.


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