Managing middle school. What your child — or mine — won’t tell you

My sixth grader is at his middle school this evening because he’s part of the open house for parents of fifth graders. His official title is student ambassador, and he and 17 classmates have been preparing for this night for several weeks.

I think he is taking the ambassador’s role as an emissary of good will to heart.

In the car earlier today, he explained to me that his topic is after-school clubs and activities. “Make sure you tell the parents that it is not easy to keep up with after-school events or sports and that the calendar isn’t always updated to reflect club meetings that are changed or canceled,” I told him. “And tell them to make copies of their children’s sports physicals in case the school loses them.”

He responded that he had already practiced his presentation and he couldn’t change anything now.

Besides, he said, “Do you think I am going to get up in front of the school administration and tell the parents that our school does some things badly?”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

43 comments Add your comment

fultonschoolsparent

March 24th, 2011
8:21 pm

Sorry you’re so unhappy with your own local middle school. Possibly using your position as an AJC blog moderator to go after the school is inappropriate? Seems like taking it directly to your BOE member or school administrator would be a more direct and professional approach. Just sayin….

Maureen Downey

March 24th, 2011
8:42 pm

@FUlton, Not unhappy and did not mean to go after the school. My point was that middle school with all the moving parts is a challenge for parents and I think that parents ought to hear that upfront. I thought it was a cute story.
Maureen

Chrome Gouda

March 24th, 2011
8:44 pm

Maureen, if any coach or other school official is only able to accept payment for school related fees in cash, than something is not right. Don’t do it. Or, if it is absolutely necessary, get a receipt. I’ve been a public school teacher and private school administrator for almost seventeen years now. I can’t recall any situation where I had to ask for cash only.

Maureen Downey

March 24th, 2011
8:46 pm

@Chrome, Parents could pay with cash or money order, but I didn’t have time to get a money order. I was told that the problem was bounced checks in the past.
Maureen

Inman Park Boy

March 24th, 2011
8:46 pm

Spent 17 of my forty year career working in Middle Schools. They are riddled with “land mines” for students, parents, teachers and administrators. But at least it only lasts for three years!

Sam

March 24th, 2011
8:58 pm

I think it’s great that your kid is taking being an ambassador so seriously – and yes, it’s a totally cute story. They have ambassadors in high school, too. Maybe something he might want to get involved with when he gets there, as it will look nice on a college app (and who knows, he might have fun doing it, too). The 5th graders are probably excited and scared. It’s nice to have someone older tell you it’s going to be alright. It’s not really the time or place for doom and gloom.

Cobb History Teacher

March 24th, 2011
9:00 pm

Maureen I knew what you mean. I’m a member of the Air National Guard and I keep copies of everything I turn in because things do get lost in the shuffle it’s not done on purpose it’s just life with paper work. Unfortunately there are many out there that expect every organization to be perfect, but will abdicate from being expected to be perfect as well.

teacher&mom

March 24th, 2011
9:02 pm

What an honor for your 6th grader. Perhaps public speaking is in his future….who knows this may be the first step to a future ambassador’s job….you never know.

Cobb History Teacher

March 24th, 2011
9:02 pm

Middle school is rough I’ve taught it for 15 years it’s one age I would never ever ever want to go back to.

Frank

March 24th, 2011
9:28 pm

This is my 5th year teaching middle school, after 10 at high school, and I must say that Middle School teachers are the hardest working teachers on the county payroll. Never the same day twice, and organized chaos is the best of days. Can’t turn my back and never sit down. Imagine preschool without nap time and recess. Exhausting yet rewarding because they are learning to self-monitor and become more responsible. When the kids make mistakes, it should be a learning moment for them, not to repeat in High School. A Chinese Fire Drill on the worst of days, though. Selective hearing loss and temporary loss of motor and verbal control sometimes turn orderly learning into drama of the day. It’s the springtime of adolescence, windy, stormy, cold one day, hot the next. One never knows what the kids will say or do next. I agree with the Cobb History Teacher though, I would not want to return to that age, or high school for that matter. Maybe 1st grade. . . .

JoDeeMcD

March 24th, 2011
10:14 pm

@Frank–your comments are so true, and so poignant! Middle school truly is the springtime of adolescence.

I teach gifted 6th graders, and their parents often opt to put their students into TOO MANY gifted classes. Life is overwhelming enough in 6th grade without the pressure of 4 advanced-level classes for which they are often ill-prepared. Last spring I recruited 4 student ambassadors to speak at the meeting for the parents of rising 6th grade students….it was the best! The kids laid it out—”We are miserable trying to juggle all of the balls that our high-achieving parents expect us to juggle at age 11. Being in an on-level class in 6th grade will not jeopardize our futures or keep us from being accepted at the colleges of our choice. ”

By the way, in middle school, flexibility is key. Things change. Sometimes rapidly. It doesn’t make a school “bad”. The ability to adapt is the key to long-term success. Wait….didn’t Charles Darwin already say that?

EdDawg

March 24th, 2011
10:47 pm

Frank, you couldn’t have described my last 15 years of teaching middle school better.

Middle School Rocks

March 24th, 2011
11:22 pm

I worked in a middle school for 11 years. It changes you forever–a little warped, but in a good way! I have found that middle school faculties are very creative, work very well together and genuinely like the students. I think we bonded (teachers and students) because we were so happy we survived the day. Maureen, I’m so proud of your son. What a wonderful answer! He very politely told you he couldn’t change his presentation and also that he wanted it to be positive. I think he will make a fine diplomat. I would like to add that my two sons taught me more than I ever hoped to teach them. I was wondering if you felt “schooled” by his response.

[...] Downey, who writes Get Schooled for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, told a similar story today. Her 6th grade son was an ‘ambassador’ to help transition 5th grade families to 6th. She [...]

Ben

March 25th, 2011
2:51 am

Middle School is an interesting time for the hormonally challenged. There is a better chance at winning the mega millions lottery than predicting what will happen in a middle school classroom at any given moment. At this age the “student” has the brain of a child and the body of an adult. They constantly challenge social boundries to learn what is acceptable and what is not. Every middle school teacher could write books on horror stories (like the young lady that started her period in the middle of class, said nothing and refused to leave her chair at the end of class OR the honor student, basketball player, cheerleader, etc. that was being sexually abused by her father and told me one day she wanted to talk) or embarassment (like the young man from an economically challenged family that was sitting in the front row of English class when his pants split wide open in the crotch, had no underwear on and his teacher was on her third day in class) or honor (like the young lady with the most beautiful long blond hair that had been rarely cut but immediately cut it all off and donated her hair for cancer patients that had los their hair and did it without any prodding or doubt). I would not trade my time teaching middle school for anything 0 not even the bad times. In my very subjective opinion this is when a child is truly formed and whild most hate this time period it has a tremendous influence on how the world and life is viewed by the student. So, you are lucky as your child is still talking to you. Expect some large changes very quickly with some enormous mood swings (wanting to still be babied to complete wirhdrawal) and know that when you ask “How was your day in school?” will be met with just a muttered “OK.” Just one suggestion. Teach your child that even if they believe they have the worst teacher in the world they can still learn from them, that the worst day of their life is actually preparing them for their future, and that this to shall pass. Good luck.

Ben

March 25th, 2011
2:52 am

Sorry for the typos – very early and trying to come up with new and exciting things for my science class.

Elizabeth

March 25th, 2011
5:24 am

Everyone of you has said it well and the only thing I need to repeat is that our school system also does not take checks because of the bounced check issue. Unlike businesses, we have no way to verify or charge for returned checks. So we do not take them. It is unfortunate for responsible parents we cannot afford to lose that money.

Elizabeth

March 25th, 2011
5:25 am

BUT we cannort afford to lose that money!

Manny

March 25th, 2011
6:24 am

After-school activities?

I have a 7th Grader and he’s a good student and a good athlete. I also have a 5th grader that will enter middle school next year. My eldest tells my youngest the following:

Forget football. Your workload is going to be totally different than elementary. You’re not going to have time.

Forget how smart you are. If you have poor study habits, you will have poor grades, period.

Forget pride in your intelligence. Ask your teacher a millions questions and slow them down if you don’t know the answers. No one in that classroom is going to make an ‘A’ for you. You got to get that ‘A’ for yourself.

Forget TV during the week. Your homework is more important and you may be working on a project that takes away all your time in the evenings.

Social interaction is important. Don’t be so rigid and go with the flow. But don’t sacrifice your integrity for a clique.

My eldest son basically ran his elementary school. Now, he’s just the guy that does his work, talks to some of his friends and goes home. He’s not a part of any cliques. He doesn’t hang out much. He’s friendly, but he believes his grades are the most important thing in school right now.

If my youngest follows his directions, he’s be OK. But I’m concerned that he won’t because he’s prideful in his intelligence and believes that he has to be the first one done. He’s a little socially awkward because his big brother has this magnetic personality, and I think that he’s going to try to show off in middle school. Oh, and he’s big and strong and is highly ranked in wrestling and martial arts- which adds to the mystique of being tough.

All of this makes for a nervous Fall next year.

philosopher

March 25th, 2011
8:03 am

I frequently voice my concern about the angry complaining and lack of any kind words for students or parents in this blog. Today, I am touched and humbled by the posts here from teachers who took the time to so empathetically describe this tough period of time in the life of a child. For the most part, this is what I see in my daughter’s teachers. This period is equally tough on parents who must watch and guide and begin to let go of some control…it’s a wild ride, indeed! I am also so very, very grateful that my child did not have 6th grade in middle school!

Teacher

March 25th, 2011
9:33 am

Middle schools are land mines for students, parents and staff. It is one of the worst educational concepts ever implemented. It is a horrible mixture of kids due to all of the hormone growth and development changes that are going on during adolescence. Middle school is very stressful and a daily high energy place due to this fact. Staff and students appeared to be stressed constantly.

Junior high is better concept and a better mixture of kids. 6th graders should still be in elementary school. 7th, 8th and 9th graders make a wonderful mix of kids in a junior high school. Middle schools have struggled since inception and need to be discontinued as they continue to struggle and they are not a good place for kids period.

Teacher, Too

March 25th, 2011
10:20 am

I love teaching middle school students. They are a constant challenge and definitely keep me on my toes! However, I think I would prefer to return to the junior high school model. I think 6th grade should be either paired with 5th grade and form a 5th/6th grade center. Or, organize elementary schools to have upper elementary with 4th, 5th, and 6th grades and lower elementary with k, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades.

Then, drop 9th grade back to junior high and have 7th, 8th, and 9th grades together to have a junior high school.

Whatever the future holds, I’ll still be with the middle-school aged children. They make for fascinating days that are always different!

Ashley

March 25th, 2011
10:30 am

Thank God I with to a junior high-school….sorry 11 years aren’t quite as mature as 12-14 year old. We started changing classes in sixth grade so we would ready for the challenges of junior high, then again schools were more structure and the childs interest were put first, something I find lacking in todays schools.

Lynx

March 25th, 2011
11:00 am

Middle school has been a great fit for our precocious daughter. Her teachers have taken her aside on various occasions to offer individual encouragement, to comfort her and inspire her when her test scores are not what she aimed for, and to offer a laugh each day in the classroom – each of her teachers has a rich and gentle sense of the challenges these kids face each day and each does his or her best to gift the students with the joy of learning something new every day.

Lynx

March 25th, 2011
11:09 am

I know about my daughter’s middle school because I go to Parents’ Night each year and make a point to speak to each of the teachers. I communicate with the teachers by email when the need arises or when something comes up that I’d like them to know. I visit (rarely) my daughter at lunch time to bring a special treat for her and her friends. I talk to her every day about what she learned in her classes, who she had lunch with, and listen to her stories of middle school humor and drama. I participate in PTA and Science Fair, and the County Math Advisory Board, so I know more or less what the other parents and school board are thinking.

Batgirl

March 25th, 2011
11:13 am

Ben and Frank, lovely sentiments. I absolutely adore our middle schoolers.

As I have said many times on this blog, we sent our 6th graders back to elementary school several years ago. While it has hardly been a disaster, it has not worked out quite as well as those who pushed for it thought it would. Elementary principals now have serious discipline problems that they did not experience when 5th graders were the oldest in their schools. Then when the kids get to us as 7th graders, they are extremely immature after having been coddled for an extra year. This immaturity continues on through the 8th grade. We’ll see what happens when they get to high school. In my district, at least, most of us would love to have 6th grade back in middle school.

Remember, also, that many of these kids are reaching puberty earlier than in the past, and they have access to much more mature information than most of us did as children. They need to be allowed to grow up rather than continuing with the babying and coddling they often receive at home and in elementary school.

Maureen, congratulations to your son. He sounds like a great kid with a great head on his shoulders.

Teacher, Too

March 25th, 2011
12:14 pm

Maybe the elementary schools need to stop coddling that babying the kids in 5th grade. This year, our sixth graders are very immature. I had one student say that her elementary teacher allowed her students to call her “mommy.” No wonder we have students who have difficulty adjusting to the more structured middle school.

Teacher, Too

March 25th, 2011
12:18 pm

Oops! Previous post should read, “stop coddling and babying.”

ah03422

March 25th, 2011
1:04 pm

As a middle school mom, I am horrified when I read some of these comments. It is true that middle school is a transition from elementary school, but it does not have to be the worst three years of your child’s life. My son is a good student, good athlete, and apparently from all of my parent/teacher conferences, he is a good young man. I am proud that he attends a public middle school and is able to participate in extra curricular activities. I am sure he needs to read more at home, put forth a little more effort at school, and worry about his social life a little less. However, I feel that he is making most of the right decisions.

oldtimer

March 25th, 2011
1:58 pm

I taught Middle School for 15 years. In TN where we now live and I no longer teach, we have many K-8 scols. Theu are very successfull. I thnk that one of the reasons they work is parents are involved in the school for 9 years. These schools are small, so everyone knows each other. When I visit in classrooms to tutor and help, I do not notice the drama I witnessed as a teacher. The 6,7,&8 graders actually are welll behaved and resposible.

Mommy2

March 25th, 2011
3:57 pm

I have to say I am very happy to hear that teachers are really aware of the struggle that alot of the middle schoolers endure. From popularity issues to sexual orientation. However, I have watched a kid that was so enthusiastic about learning and being smart turn into what is literally a troublemaker. I cant help but wonder if either my child refuses to communicate in meaningful realistic and respectful ways with others or are people really resentful of the extra energy it requires to keep my child challenged.

long time educator

March 25th, 2011
4:44 pm

Mommy2,
I taught gifted language arts in middle school for about 8 years. If a student or one of my own children claimed they were “bored”, or in your terms “not challenged”, I explained that bored people are boring and it is their own job to find something worthwhile to interest themselves. This is especially true for gifted students. They can read about a subject that interests them, learn to play a musical instrument, take up a challenging sport, or become engaged in so many different activities. The point is that it is the responsibility of the individual to challenge and engage himself in something he finds interesting. A teacher or parent can help, but it is ultimately the individual’s responsibility to entertain himself. It will be a life skill that will serve him all the rest of his life.

another comment

March 25th, 2011
7:10 pm

I also encountered in Cobb County a coach telling me that payment would only be taken in money order or cash. I have finally responded, that is so Ghetto, and I am not Ghetto. I am responsible with my money, I do not bounce checks until the time that I would ever bounce a check ( never) I will pay you with a check. This was after I found out that 5 months into the Cheerleading Season I was one of the few suckers at this school 11 out of 150 who had paid the Mandatory $60 Booster Club dues, by the May 21, 2010 due date for the 2010/2011 season. I then demanded a refund on that, rather than continue to support the free lunch crowd.

Why should I be treated like trash. I know how to be financially responsible. Maureen is correct, it is a big inconvience for some of us to go and get a money order. That is not how a responsible person lives their life, they live their life with a checking account. They pay bills promptly and don’t bounce checks.

Look at the rash of embezzelments by booster club treasurers across the metro area. They seem to love all these cash and money order payments. I will be paying with a check so I have a record of payment. You either want my real money to support the teams or not. I am not a free lunch freeloader, like the majority of our schools have become these days.

Teacher-Mom in Cobb

March 25th, 2011
9:18 pm

While it was mildly “cute,” this particular blog sounds like an absolute dig against your children’s school rather than a vehicle for discussion. If you have issues with teachers who cancel meetings and inconvenience you, then take it up with them and not the readers of the AJC. Middle school is not the dismal picture you routinely paint it to be.

Middle school madness

March 25th, 2011
9:28 pm

@Teacher-mom, Middle school is dismal. And I am a middle school teacher. It doesn’t work for kids. It doesn’t work for parents. We should cut our losses and go back to k-8. And Maureen, please continue to offer a personal view now and then. Keeps the blog at a human level.

Teacher-Mom in Cobb

March 26th, 2011
8:50 am

@Middle school madness, After teaching in both middle and high schools, I think middle school is anything but dismal. As always, your own experience determines your viewpoint, and my experience and the feedback from my students and parents indicate that middle school is a safe and comfortable environment for kids to get through those years of “hormonal impairment.” I teach 8th grade, and by this time of year they are ready to stretch their wings and fly off to high school, but I can feel good about how their middle school experience has prepared them to be successful in later years.

Dekalbite

March 26th, 2011
11:16 am

I loved teaching 6th and 7th graders. They are capable of grown-up thoughts and a more advanced sense of humor (super important in my opinion) yet they are still very much interested in adult approval. Having taught 6th and 7th graders in an elementary and a middle school setting, I prefer to teach them in an elementary setting. IMHO I found they consider themselves role models for the younger kids when they are in an elementary setting; consequently, they display more maturity. Their hormonal changes produce cracks in their voices, height and weight issues, and mood swings that make you unsure if Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde is coming to class today, but you can see the adult they will eventually be emerging. A huge amount of work to teach this age, and any parent with a child this age knows the challenges involved.

ITK

March 26th, 2011
2:16 pm

@Teacher-mom in Cobb: As an educator at Maureen’s son’s middle school, I have to say that you nailed my interpretation of this entry. We had 18 ambassadors Thursday night, and they “practiced” what they had to say in order to prepare them, calm their nerves and make sure they kept to under a minute (or you can imagine how long something like this would take). But students always use their own words and frequently improvise and say things that are quirky about both the plusses and minuses of the middle school experience. The reality is, though, that our middle school is a joyful place to be and a great place to learn, and talking to our students makes that abundantly clear. We had a recent SACS evaluation where groups of students were called upon to speak to the visiting team (without any adults present) and the SACS team came out raving about how they’d never been in a middle school where students were so knowledgable about their learning and the ways they’re assessed. They also said that kids clearly loved their school and wanted to be here. These are people who visit schools all over the country, and they thought our school and staff were exceptional. I’ve never posted here before (though I do tune in periodically) but I really do regret the frequent “anti-middle-school” tone (e.g., the post published on the first day of school about how bad middle schools are.) Maureen, I think that you developed your opinions on middle school while your older children went through it, and now you’re reluctant to change those opinions even in the face of overwhelming evidence. I wouldn’t expect you to use your blog to gush about all the wonderful things that happen at our school every day, some of which I know you’ve witnessed firsthand, but I would hope that you’d spare your readers these sideways attempts to critique middle schools in general. I’m sorry your forms got lost. But we have about 400 students participating in after-school clubs–art club, manga club, myriad sports teams, Girls on Track, debate, academic Bowl, STEM Cell, band, chorus–and the list goes on. And most of those activities are sponsored by hard-working teachers who do it on their own time and for no extra pay. Maybe you could focus on that aspect of middle school once in a while. You have great kids, and I hope your son knows that he can tell us any time if there’s something negative he’d like us to address. I hope he also knows that it’s okay to tell his mom that he actually likes his middle school.

fultonschoolsparent

March 26th, 2011
7:59 pm

@ITK – it was great to hear some one from the actual school respond to Maureen’s rather obvious vendetta like approach (unusual since she’s usually pretty balanced, in my opinion. On many other subjects, I’m in complete agreement with her). Possibly she really thought it was “just a cute story”, but it didn’t read that way from my point of view. A good response that stood up for your school and middle schools in general. Bravo.

Test

March 27th, 2011
8:10 am

West Cobb

March 27th, 2011
11:34 am

I have never been so shocked or disappointed in education as when I enrolled my 6th grade child into our local middle school. Lovinggood Middle School, in Cobb County, led by Mrs. Wison, is a prime reason we need to rethink the middle school model. Their treatment of our children with utter contempt is only surpassed by their negative view of parents. I had always thought the rumors about middle schools not based on reality until I sent my child to middle school, how silly was in my understanding of education ( p.s. currently I an elementary public school teacher on the other side of Cobb County).

I will be sending my child to private school after this year of hell and wait for them to enter the 9th grade. Lovinggood Middle School, as is true of many middle schools, is led by a leader who has never taught a day in the middle school setting. This needs to change. You should not get your job based on your friendship with the superintendent, or for that matter your spouse’s job at the DOE.

Clearly, like an many middle school principals, is a prime examples of the Peterson Principle – raising to the highest level of your incompetence.

Ole Guy

March 28th, 2011
3:59 pm

The kids a budding statesman and true politician…good story, Maureen!

Middle School Parent

March 28th, 2011
10:37 pm

Middle school for my son was a ” fork in the road” He had an attitude with capital letters. His dad and I sat him down and informed him that the state only required that we give him food, shelter, and clothing. The clothing could be of “our choosing”. In retrospect this was the best thing we ever did. He learned that he was not entitled to anything. Now he is an honor student at UGA and applying for medical school. It was not funny then but now I chuckle when I remember him telling his military father that he couldn’t tell him how to wear his hair and it got shaved off!!