I have a special friend named Sandy, who is a 6th grade teacher, which is middle school in California. She was actually my daughter’s sixth grade teacher. We got to know each other through my volunteer work in her classroom. Yes, teachers in middle school do let parents volunteer in their classroom. I had been told it was quite the opposite of that. With the move to California and my daughter beginning middle school, I had planned to take that year off from teaching to help my daughter adjust to our move. Little did I realize, that it was going to be a bigger adjustment for me not working (the first time in twenty years) than it was for my daughter to go to middle school. I give my daughter’s teachers all of the credit for her smooth adjustment. This is a school full of amazing teachers! Not only did Sandy let me help, but other teachers “adopted” me that year, too. I volunteered about 10 hours per week in 2 sixth grade Core (lang. arts/social studies) classroom, helped the librarian, was a “copy cat” – copy materials for teachers, and assisted the reading specialist with the Read Naturally program. I absolutely loved my volunteer work and by the end of the year I felt like I had been through a year of student teaching. Although there are similarities with teaching elementary and middle school, there are more differences. One of the first ones I noticed was motivation. Motivating a first grader (which is the grade I was teaching before we moved) was so much easier than motivating a middle schooler. First grader want their teachers approval, middle schoolers on the other hand want their peer’s approval. How many times a day does a first grade teacher hear, “Does this look OK?” (when they show you their work). There were many middle schoolers that would take the path of least resistance – turn in work that you knew was less than their best because it was easier. I remember one day I was working with a 7th grade boy with the Read Naturally program and discussing his fluency. I told him to pretend he was reading the story to a group of first graders. He read the story again with little improvement. So, then I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He wanted to play baseball professionally. I asked him what his plans were after baseball because they don’t play the game very long. He planned to be a sport newscaster after that. I asked him what he thought his chances were of getting hired to read the sports news if he read the words like a robot. Suddenly, the light came on and he began reading with inflection. He was capable of reading fluently before, but he lacked motivation. It seemed to motivate them more if you showed how it affected them. I found motivation to be one of the biggest challenges a middle school teacher dealt with on an hour by hour basis. I thought I was tired when I taught kindergarten, but I think being a motivational cheerleader-teacher in middle school would be tiring, too. Middle school teachers have my admiration and sympathy.
Here are some happy notes you can copy, cut apart, and staple on students’ papers or handout when you catch your students working extra hard. Maybe these little notes will give your students a little extra boost.