In Praise of Middle Schools

Currently I am a grade 6/7/8 teacher in a K-8 elementary school. Our entire school has less than 100 students (we are a small rural school). While this affords us many benefits: such as a family atmosphere, whole staff collaboration and an ability to build a relationship with every student, it does also have several significant drawbacks. Classes are most often prescribed in advance offering little chance for students who may need a break from one another to get it. It also provides no opportunity for grade level collaboration between colleagues and students within our building as there is only one classroom with each grade (although technology such as Google Drive and Adobe Connect have allowed us to collaborate with students from other schools which has been great!!).

But perhaps the single greatest flaw in this K-8 system is the administration and expectations placed on students and staff in a school which has students ranging from 5 years of age to 14. With increasing work hours, broken families, increased curricular expectations and social responsibilities, schools have been left to pick up the slack as the modern family breaks down. It has become extremely difficulty for parents to keep their jobs, raise their kids, keep up with technology, provide extracurricular opportunities and learning opportunities on a consistent basis. 

While school (some with vigor and some begrudgingly) take on these extra responsibilities we are left with teachers and admin who are stretched to limit. Nowhere is this more apparent than the 25 committees and 5 new board initiatives each school must adhere to on a yearly basis, to ensure that every aspect of the child’s life is addresses (or at least covered) by the school. Safe and Caring, health and nutrition, QDPA, and on and on and on…

The challenge continues that in a K-8 schools the needs of the students at each end of the spectrum are drastically different. Schools are built on a hierarchy of antiquated rules which often defy logic and common sense. How can we move into the 21st Century by creating rules that are applied in the same way to kids who are 14 years old and 5 years old? This makes no sense! I have taught gr. 7/8 for nearly 10 years now and nothing frustrates me more than how grade 7/8 students are treated like little kids. They are not! They are at an extremely difficult point in their development…trying to figure our who they are and who they want to be. 

Too often they are treated little kids, and then adults and admin are perplexed when their actions emulate those younger students. If we treat them little kids they will act that way! Often I run into difficulty when I fundamentally disagree with a ridiculous rule and openly choose not to enforce it. When I show trust and confidence in them, they most often reward that trust. Unfortunately many administrators and teacher only focus on the negative or silly actions…Hey folks (read about brain development 101…this is what they are programmed to do!).

My hope is that boards of education will change this out dated model.Create middle schools where students in grade 6-8 can cast of the shackles of our past education system and micromanaging administrators, and allow them to live, learn, create, search and yes make mistakes with a little more freedom. Until we are willing to trust them, work with them, and give up our need for control, I fear our grade 6/7/8 students will continue to rebel against the insanity that is K-8 schools. 

We need to give them a place where they feel like they are welcome.

We need to build an environment where they are valued and surround them with their peers. 

They need us to build them a home.

Middle School.

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