Is middle school a power vacuum?

I attended several classes about the middle school years at a recent education conference. One of the theories floated as to why middle school was so awful for kids had to do with a power vacuum.

The speaker explained that in elementary school the teachers were in control and directed everything for the children. Besides just teaching academics, teachers are also often social engineers. They would keep the peace and make sure all were playing nicely. If Bobby has a problem with Ken then the teacher tries to help them work it out or keep the apart. If Sally is a little catty or hurts other girls’ feelings then the teacher may point that out to Sally and help her see the error in her ways.

You also have a teacher that knows her 25 kids pretty well. She knows if they are having bad days or if something seems out of place.

However, according to this expert, when pre-teens/teens head off the middle school, the teachers’ roles subside to just teaching and there is a power vacuum to fill.

Since the kids switch classes, the subject teachers don’t know them  as well and may not be tuned into problems. The kids are encountering social dilemmas in hallways and bathrooms where teachers are not present.

So who fills this power vacuum in middle school left behind as the teachers withdraw? The socially stronger students start running the show – sometimes for good, sometimes for bad.

I took it that the speaker was advocating for having a stronger presence of at least one teacher in the middle schooler’s life. That some adult within the school knows the child well enough to know if he or she is having problems or needs help.

I read an article a few years ago in the New York Times Magazine that advocated that middle school kids stay in elementary school so they could seek help from the elementary school teachers they trusted. The story said in schools with that arrangement the confused middle schoolers would routinely seek out teachers they bonded with when younger and found guidance and comfort from them.

Do you buy that middle school is a power vacuum? With what would you fill it? Do you think the teachers retract too much from the middler schoolers’ lives and should be more of a presence? What about theory of having one teacher that knows the child better than the other teachers – maybe even like an advisor instead of homeroom teacher? What about keeping them grouped with the elementary students so they have trusted adults that they have previously bonded with near-by?

54 comments Add your comment

HB

April 26th, 2011
12:14 am

What about trying the opposite? My elementary school had 4-6 graders changing classes and we had unstructured recess. I think we benefitted academically by having teachers who could really focus on 2-3 subjects instead of having to juggle an entire curriculum alone. Then we went on to jr high and changed classes much like in high school with 6 periods and unstructured lunch (didn’t have to sit with our class, no silent lunch, etc), but in a smaller setting with fewer class choices than high school. Kids aren’t learning to deal with life a few steps away from grownups because we are now so obsessed with “nurturing” them to age 21.

Tad Jackson

April 26th, 2011
6:35 am

I have a son in 8th grade at South Forsyth Middle School. He’s always telling me about how great his teachers are and how well organized the school is. Power vacuum? I don’t know, really, but for three years I know I’ve been a pleased parent with everything they do for the kids at this middle school.

http://www.adixiediary.com

motherjanegoose

April 26th, 2011
6:51 am

I have never taught MS. I will be interested to know what those who have, will say on this topic.
I know some bloggers have mentioned that they teach MS.

On the flip side, I volunteered 6-9 hours per month in MS, for 6 years and learned a lot about parenting skills. My favorite was a Dad who was coming in to check out his child and did not know that name of his homeroom teacher ( required to put on the form). When I asked him the grade, he replied “5th, I think.” I sent him into the office with a smile. Middle school here is 6th-8th.

Oh, maybe Dad has more important things to worry about than the name of his kid’s teacher or what grade he is in.

Have a great day all!

Purple Drank

April 26th, 2011
7:40 am

JJ

April 26th, 2011
8:09 am

Mrs. G

April 26th, 2011
8:11 am

My husband teaches middle schoolers (and high schoolers – his school is 6th through 12th grades) and I’ve had more than one parent tell me (when I’ve bumped into them at the store or seen them at a sporting event) that my husband just seems to “connect” with the kids and that they love him and just feel extremely comfortable around him. Makes me proud. ;) I know that he makes an effort to ensure that they know that he cares (and that they can go to him, if need be) and I think that that’s hugely important, especially for middle schoolers. So, I think that the speaker is on to something!

My husband also takes great care to be a good role model for his students. We live in a small town and guess who gets to buy nearly every bottle of wine and every pack of beer? That would be me…hahaha. He knows that a 14-year-old could see him buying beer and think, “Well, Mr. G drinks…it must be okay…” My husband is 30, but looks younger, and the kids (especially the boys, I’ve noticed) really look up to him. I think that he realizes that they could put two and two together if they see me buying alcohol (and know who I am; they’ll probably realize that he’s going to drink it, too), but it really probably is better that he doesn’t have a case of beer in hand when he stops to talk to some students in the parking lot of the gas station, ya know?

RJ

April 26th, 2011
8:16 am

Middle school is one of the most difficult times for a child. Honestly, I wish that those in charge would listen to educators and end middle school. Sixth graders would be best served in elementary school. They need that extra year to mature. Jr. High is a much better model. Of course this decision would involve actually giving educators a voice. Yeah, that’ll never happen. Everyone knows more about education that actual educators.

mom2alex&max

April 26th, 2011
8:35 am

I’m scared to death of this period. My oldest still has one more year to go in the protective environment of ES before he goes to the MS wilderness. I am trying to learn as much as possible about the local MS, but it’s slow going. I do not feel prepared for this next step and it scares me!

mom2alex&max

April 26th, 2011
8:37 am

RJ, I’m not disagreeing with you, but I wonder about the actual logistics of this. In marge systems, we are talking about adding 5-6 classrooms and teachers to hold the 6th graders. And I cannot imagine squeezing an extra two grades in the high schools? I’m thinking space right now, not necessarily teachers as of course they would transfer.

MH

April 26th, 2011
8:42 am

@ Tad

We also have had a positive experience at our MS – which is A.C. Crews in the Brookwood cluster in GCPS. Our second child will be there next year and we are looking forward to it.

I do believe part of the problem that exists with MS is the parents, as they tend to think they should let there children have alot more freedom and don’t feel the need to be involved in school. Even our HS says to parents “don’t let go so fast”.

Many also probably go into MS with the preconceived idea that it is bad, because there are alot of topics just like this to falsey confirm fears. I am sure there are bad middle schoosl, just not as many as there are perceived to be.

Parents need to stay involved as much as they can.

RJ

April 26th, 2011
8:45 am

Jr. high is grades 7-9. It just makes more sense. You’re only adding to elementary school.

MomsRule

April 26th, 2011
8:52 am

@RJ, interesting comment. my boys loved it when they entered middle school as 6th graders and left elementary behind. And personally, I was just as thrilled to have elementary behind us. IMO, there is far to much babying and hand holding going on in the older elementary grades.

I have a couple friends whose 6th graders were still in the elementary school when mine switched to the middle school. (We are in the same county but a couple elementary schools still have 6th.) I observed that the 6th graders at the elementary were coddled more because they were still in elementary (by the school and parents alike). While the 6th graders at the middle school were required to step it up a notch.To me this is a good thing. They aren’t babies anymore.

At least that is what I’ve witnessed in my little circle of the world.

Tonya C.

April 26th, 2011
8:54 am

RJ hit the nail on the head. My son is having a good middle school experience, but I still have no plans on my daughters going to public school after 5th grade. I went to both a junior high and middle school, and much preferred the junior high model. I went to 6th grade in ES, and it was great. Teachers have been saying this for ages, but no one listens. My husband is a middle school teacher and after the batch of sixth graders he got this year, wholeheartedly agrees.

Techmom

April 26th, 2011
9:25 am

It’s my feeling that schools tell you they want parents involved but once they get to MS, they really don’t. Maybe they’re afraid of the critique or criticism but I never felt welcomed. Maybe they’ve had bad experiences with certain parents (no doubt our society is full of parents who think their children can do no wrong). But I definitely don’t feel like there’s as much of an opportunity or desire for parents to be involved in middle school. They really just want you to send perfect little students to school who always do their homework and never make a peep.

I think there’s a definite need for closer adult/teacher relationships with kids in middle school. That doesn’t mean they can’t change classes but there’s such little connection with the kids in the present format that they can easily fall through the cracks. Kids need a “champion” at school. Otherwise they do one wrong or bad thing and easily get labeled instead of having someone who can help them with the situation and be the encouraging force or give correctional advice during a major transition time in life.

Enemas for Industry

April 26th, 2011
9:28 am

Middle school is nothing compared to paying a mortgage, car payment, maintaining employment in these times……I’d love to be in less stressful times.

Warrior Woman

April 26th, 2011
9:31 am

@Techmom – In general, I don’t think schools really want meaningful parental involvement at any age.

Middle school isn’t a power vacuum, the kids start having the power, partly because foolish parents think their kids don’t need them anymore once they’re teens and start disengaging.

Further, middle school is a a flawed concept created by the education bureaucracy – the same type of people making the dumb, administrator and central office driven decisions that continue to hurt public education today.

RJ

April 26th, 2011
9:58 am

@MomsRule, that’s great for your kids. Unfortunately it isn’t the case for the majority of 6th graders. They really lack the discipline and maturity for the freedoms of middle school. They also still need a little more nuturing. I personally haven’t witnessed the coddling with 5th graders. However, I have witnessed many 6th graders failing at record numbers due to the the unrealistic expectations set for them. One extra year of elementary would make a world of difference.

Jeff

April 26th, 2011
10:01 am

I think if we broke the grades up into smaller groups at that age it would help. Instead of 6,7,8 together, maybe do 5,6. Then at a separate school have 7,8.

DB

April 26th, 2011
10:16 am

@Jeff: That’s what they did at my children’s school. It was a private school, so they had a little more leeway — but the elementary portion of the school was K-4. The “lower middle” was the 5th and 6th graders, and the “upper middle” was 7th and 8th graders. Let’s face it, there is a WORLD of difference between a 6th grader and a 8th grader — hormone-wise, social adeptness-wise, physically and mentally. This way, the 6th graders weren’t just hanging out in the cold as looker-ons, unable to take part in athletics, etc. — they were grouped with the 5th graders and there were leadership opportunities. While there were expectations on the 5th graders that some felt were a little unrealistic for 10 year olds, they were “eased” into it by caring teachers who dealt exclusively with 5th graders year after year, and were very good at helping them adjust to the challenges of organizing themselves for different classes and different teachers, etc.

Tonya C.

April 26th, 2011
10:22 am

Warrior Woman:

EXACTLY! I totally agree. I’m having the issue with teacher communication right now. Our son is 11 for goodness sake. He still loves pokemon and chocolate milk. He IS NOT a miniature adult, and I don’t expect him to be. He is very independent, but is still growing up. Let’s be realistic about what he is capable of doing and help him get to the level of maturity needed to be a successful adult. This is not going to happen overnight, and that’s what seems to be expected when these kids hit middle school.

It is not coddling to want to lead these unknowing kids in the right direction. MS has become the black hole where kids on the cusp are lost and even the ‘good’ ones can lose their direction in a heartbeat.

Uh.....TWG?

April 26th, 2011
10:50 am

Enter your comments here

The Truth

April 26th, 2011
10:51 am

You are asking a teacher to be an expert in every field, the standards that students are asked to master in Social Studies, Science, and Math beginning in the 6th grade require expert knowledge of government, nature, and math. As a student’s age progresses, so does the curriculum. Teachers in middle school work very hard as a “team concept” where they discuss students and place students in a “pyramid of intervention.” The problem of knowing your students has to do more with teaching 31 students in each class more so than seeing them one hour a day.

MomsRule

April 26th, 2011
11:00 am

@RJ…is it possible they lack the discipline and maturity because they’ve been coddled for so long? I’m not tryin to be argumentative but it seems to me many of these issues are created because too many people are doing for the kids and not expecting the kids to handle anything on their own.

When did it become the norm (even expected) for parents to be responsible for checking websites for homework, etc? That’s messed up IMO. I completed K-12 without my parents having to be involved in every aspect of my day to day school life. I’m sure this is the case for many of the parents on this blog as well.

Like I tell my boys…”I will help you in any way I can but school is your job, I’ve already completed the XX grade” “It is up to you to know what you need to do, to know when it is due and to get it done.”

We have certainly guided them in their younger years and will continue to do so as needed but at what point do things become the childs responsibility? In my house….it is long before they head off to college.

To me there is a world of difference between being an involved parent that encourages their kids to become responsible and independent and an overbearing parent that won’t let their kids grow up because “they aren’t ready yet.”

I see too much of the “they aren’t ready yet” parents. Of the kids I see regurlary…many of them are ready. They just don’t have to do it yet.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Augusta

April 26th, 2011
11:04 am

Parents,

Please stay involved with your children’s educations and with their middle schools, especially during their instructional days.

And please reach out to, and partner with, your children’s teachers to make your middle schools places where you, your child, his/her teacher and learning are valued.

Tia

April 26th, 2011
11:16 am

Just depends on the commitment of the principal and the teachers. My daughter started a middle school in Dekalb that fully supported the disconnect theory (to a degree–my mother was the counselor at the school but I saw what the author is talking about in general). However her experience changed dramatically when she entered into the middle school she is in now. From the principal down to the secretaries, the faculty and staff know these kids. Names, likes and dislikes, struggles and strengths. The entire school is very much a team and attuned to the children that are in the school. My daughter and her friends routinely seek out their teachers, counselors and the principal for acknowledgement, validation and just to connect. And walking into the school I witness as a parent on a broad scale. But that is the mission installed by the principal. The gradual weening of the children into a high school like atmosphere without abandoning them is achievable if that is important to the school.

Tia

April 26th, 2011
11:19 am

BTW—I want to acknowledge the middle school my daughter is in now is Northwestern MS in North Fulton. There is not power vacuum, as described, there.

A

April 26th, 2011
11:20 am

When I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, schools were generally K-6, then 7-8 junior high (or sometimes 7-9) and then 9-12 or 10-12 senior high. When we moved to Fulton County, I found it odd that elementary only goes up to 5th grade. Does anyone know why they have this model here? My kid is just in 2nd now, but before we know it we’ll be in the middle school phase!

Waldo the Great

April 26th, 2011
11:22 am

When I attended school, elementary school was grades 1-8 and high school was 9-12. Plenty of time for structure and learning where you fit in. No bouncing around. I wish they still did it that way.

Techmom

April 26th, 2011
11:27 am

Jeff, I think it’s more about the attitude of the school and how engaged the teachers are in the student’s lives versus the number of grades grouped together. Quite frankly, I’m all for having more grades in one school so that kids are in the same place with the same people who have known them and their families longer. There’s a sense of accountability when you have a long-term relationship.
I am not blaming the teachers for not being more connected and involved; there are lots of factors and reasons why it doesn’t happen (including a bureaucratic school system and parents who don’t care, too large of classes, etc.). But we have lost a sense of community and partnership within our schools and to me, that’s one the biggest issue with middle school. You probably see the partnership more in smaller communities and that’s difficult to reproduce in counties like ours where they were building new schools and rezoning communities every year but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done; it just can’t be done with the current methods. Why do you think parents in Dekalb are protesting the rezonings? Those schools aren’t great simply b/c of the neighborhoods; they’re great b/c the teachers, administration, students and their families are invested in their community and their school.

Sylvania

April 26th, 2011
11:39 am

At some point momma’s little angels have to start developing critical thinking and behavior skills without a safety net. Middle school starts this process and it is important for students to be exposed to this at this time in preparation for their high school and college years.

We didn’t seem to have these “issues” when I was going to school.

BTW, “You also have a teacher that….” should be “You also have a teacher who…”

middle school teacher

April 26th, 2011
11:47 am

Sixth graders should be in elementary. You should have 7-9th in a seperate place a real junion high.

Tonya C.

April 26th, 2011
11:52 am

@MomsRule:

But this is not when you grew up. I was incredibly independent growing up, to a fault. But the reality is that the influences on children now are much greater than even when I graduated high school in 1999. they need independence and responsibility, but there MUST be a safety net because they are hormonal pre-teens and teens. I look to what the most successful immigrants are doing with their kids and try to emulate what is making allowing their kids to succeed. They do force responsibility, but with oversight.

The American Way of just letting them go and making there own way or coddling them like large infants seems to have backfired.

Mattie

April 26th, 2011
12:01 pm

We were fortunate enough to live in a district where the elementary school went from k-8. I loved it, and so did my kids. The parents were still involved in the upper grades, because most of us had younger kids too. The little ones especially loved having older kids around to look up to. None of mine had any difficulty adjusting to high school.

It was wonderful knowing most of the parents and other kids in the school because we had been together for so long.

ms. obvious

April 26th, 2011
12:09 pm

I think that if we can lower it to 3 teachers for subjects instead of 5 that seems to be the norm today it would help greatly. We should also try to keep class sizes as small as possible. I’ve worked with middle schoolers in both public and private. I’ve taught 5 different classes of 35 kids most of whom live in poverty. Those kids needed me, and I just didn’t have what it took to give them all what they needed. We tried, but one teacher can only do so much. The teachers do get to know the students better than you would think, but it can be hard to be everywhere, and they can’t be mama to every kid. Smaller classroom sizes, and fewer class changes would help. Block scheduling could be an alternative as well. Where kids only have 2 or 3 different classes a day, and stay in those classes for 2 hours. It could be a more economical way of giving kids that closeness to their teachers.

ms. obvious

April 26th, 2011
12:12 pm

A. Look into the John H. Lounsburry middle school reform. He was the king, and that is what the model is after. He is a Georgia native, and still occasionally does some work the GCSU. I had the pleasure of meeting him and working with him, and he is one of the strongest advocates out there for Middle School reform.

Kady

April 26th, 2011
12:20 pm

I agree with Jeff and DB. When I was in school, all elementary schools were 1st – 6th. Our county had a separate school just for 7th graders. 8th and 9th graders had 2 school buildings on the same campus. They shared extracurricular class spaces and accelerated classes only. HS was 10th – 12th. It was a wonderful way to experience school! We started changing classes in 5th grade for 1/2 a day but by 7th we were on a regular class changing schedule. Our county was a top ranked school for many years and our population of troubled students was so small that for the entire county, they could be housed in a set of rooms at the Superintendent’s Office. Interestingly that within 3 years of changing this method and moving to a middle school system comprised of 6th – 8th, everything started to fall apart. Suspensions, fighting, failing grades, etc. increased threefold. The county had so many issues that a new school building was built just for housing alternative school for troubled students. The majority of these issues began in the middle school set of grades. My Mom worked for the school board and would regale us nightly with the horror stories and how, behind closed doors, everyone knew what the issue was but no one wanted to admit it publicly due to the expensive middle school restructure. I am seriously considering pulling my children out of public school for just those years. I live in Forsyth county and have nothing but great things to say about our system here; however, like Jeff and DB state, the difference between maturity and interests of a 6th and an 8th grader is just too much.

MomsRule

April 26th, 2011
12:22 pm

@ Tonya C, I graduated in 88. The basic influences now aren’t any different. Every generation wants to believe the current generation has it so much worse than previous generations. I don’t buy it.

I didn’t say anything about not having a safety net. I simply don’t believe 6th graders are to young or incapable of being in middle school.

Tonya C.

April 26th, 2011
12:31 pm

MomsRule:

We can agree to disagree then. Based on my experiences, empirical research (talking to middle school teachers), and the studies I’ve read, 6th graders don’t thrive in the middle-school model. I believe a large part of my son’s success is that he is special ed and receives additional attention and support. The basic influences may not be very different to you, but having two two younger sisters (one just graduating high school), I can attest to differences in what is experienced now to more than 20 and even 10 years ago.

Middle school is the hardest part K-12 to recruit for. You know why? Because of the age groups and the issues associated with them. Very few people stay in middle school for the long haul because it’s exhausting to manage children who have somehow been fooled to believe they are little adults without the maturity and knowledge to back it up.

RJ

April 26th, 2011
12:36 pm

@MomsRule, I don’t work with coddled kids. I actually wish they were. I work in low income Title I schools where parental involvement would be a pleasure. I have taught in private schools where kids had the best of everything, but I found those kids to be quite independent. This isn’t about parents thinking that they’re “not ready yet”, my opinion is based on the fact that most really aren’t ready yet. I’ve worked with this age group for 15 years and I’ve yet to run across a middle school teacher that didn’t feel the same way as I do. This is one of those areas where you would literally have to “walk in my shoes” to understand. I regret putting mine in public middle school, but the bun in the oven will never see the inside of a public middle school. That I can guarantee.

RJ

April 26th, 2011
12:38 pm

“Very few people stay in middle school for the long haul because it’s exhausting to manage children who have somehow been fooled to believe they are little adults without the maturity and knowledge to back it up.”

@Tonya C., that is it in a nutshell!

Kat

April 26th, 2011
12:52 pm

I think the entire middle school concept is a disaster. I see two reasons:

One: you have kids who look like third graders lumped in with kids who are triple their size and have a 5 o’clock shadow by 10 AM. The hormone stew is bad enough, but for the most part, 6th graders are still immature physically and emotionally compared to 7th & 8th graders. The smaller, less mature kids are just sitting ducks for bullies. Or, in the case of the girls, feel pressure to dress and act like the older girls.

Second, teachers and administrators constanly cry “Parent Involvement! We need PARENT INVOLVEMENT!” But the reality is very different. In our area, parents are not encouraged to get involved (unless the school needs donations). If you question anything at all, the attitude is, “We’re professionals, we know what we’re doing. You’re the parent, so you’re biased. You don’t know what your child needs. Back off and let us do our job.”

For the record, I have had two children make it through middle school. One had a miserable experience, while the other sailed through with no problems. (Same school.)

JW

April 26th, 2011
12:52 pm

Maddie I agree with you. When I went to school grades K-7th were together and then 8th-12th were high school. I, nor my siblings, had difficulty making the adjustment. I know things are different today, and part of me does feel like there should be a true “Jr. High” (grades 7th-9th). I have had 2 children go through middle school and in a nutshell I can classify it as “3 years of emotional survival” for them and many other students. In today’s world I personally feel that elementary does not do its part in preparing children for middle school and middle school does not do its part in preparing children for high school. The transition lessons do not flow smoothly from one phase to the next.

b

April 26th, 2011
12:59 pm

I do believe that MS does not encourage the amount of parent involvement that ES does. Oldest went to a public middle school where the 6th grade was all in one section of the building and really did not mingle with the 7th and 8th graders. That meant no hallway issues, lunch was all 6th graders, etc. By the time 7th grade hit they were much more mature and able to handle things.

Our younger one went to a private school after 5th grade. The MS was part of the ES for a lot of things, but still kept some autotomy. This allowed for a more gradual change. The public school was no longer set up with the 6th grade by itself and the sheer volume of kids in a “team-taught” classroom for someone with a LD was too much.

I don’t know what the answer is but I think 6th graders should not be lumped with 8th graders. There is far too much disparity. Of course there is when you go to HS between freshmen and seniors, but I find high schools handle that far better than MS.

Techmom

April 26th, 2011
1:13 pm

@Kat – I absolutely feel the same way about parental involvement; they just throw it out there but don’t really want you there. And God forbid you give you a suggestion!

Coddle My Arse

April 26th, 2011
1:52 pm

Oh, for goodness sake – why don’t we just have a separate school for each grade so your precious widdle darling can be isolated from the realities of life? Because we know out in the real world, everyone is the same shape, size, and maturity level. Too young, too old, too big, too mature, 5 o’clock shadow, secondary sex characteristics, oh my!

Jessica

April 26th, 2011
2:05 pm

I think we let our middle school kids become too peer-dependent. Their entire world revolves around who does or doesn’t like them this week and who said what about whom. Friendship is great, but it’s not healthy for kids to base their entire self-worth on the opinions of a bunch of other hormonal, insecure children.

The least miserable middle school kids I know are the ones involved in extracurricular activities they enjoy– sports, music, hobbies, clubs, church, etc. They are still dealing with a lot of changes, but at least they have a chance to focus on things that build their confidence, instead of spending every waking moment worrying about their oh-so-dramatic social lives.

Kat

April 26th, 2011
3:02 pm

@Techmom…in one notable incident, my daughter was having a problem with a teacher who had lost work that she was positive she had turned in (I saw it completed prior to the due date), but the teacher refused to even look for it, he just said she didn’t turn it in. My husband set up an appointment to talk to the teacher, with the Asst. Principal present, and the teacher conceded that she might have turned it in, and it might be in his desk somewhere, and he would look for it. A couple of days later, my husband stopped in before school to see if he had found it, but the teacher said he hadn’t had time to look. Same thing two days later…and again…about the fourth or fifth time he stopped by to ask, the teacher said IN FRONT OF THE PRINCIPAL, “Are you going to keep coming back? I haven’t even looked for it because I thought you’d give up by now.” I’d have lost it, but hubby just smiled and said, “Let me tell you something. I’m laid off from my job. I will come in here every morning until you find her work. Because I have Nothing. Else. To. Do. This IS my job!” The principal walked both of them to the classroom, and the work in question was at the top of the first desk drawer the teacher opened.

FCM

April 26th, 2011
3:30 pm

We are not addressing another key component of MS….at least the ones in Cobb.

Several ES “feed” into the MS….So the kids are with some kids they have known since PreK and some new ones. On top of which some ES schools (ours is one) feeds 2 different MS which go on to feed 2 different HS.

So you have kids that will only be together for 3 years…going through early hormonal changes (see Diary of a Wimpy Kid to clue in to MS fun of all that!)….and then throw them into a HS where some kids have what 9 years of being together….or 6 together, 3 apart and now all together again.

There is no real sense of community in these schools anymore. I mean when I went sure we had 4 ES feed East Cobb Middle….then ECMS fed directly to Wheeler. So you got the attention you needed 1-5, the MS teachers did try to help you bond with your grade in MS. They did this by being in the hall during class change and structured lunch (they took us to and from lunch, they ate in the room with us, we ate by POD…meaning we could sit with any of the 5 homerooms that made up our pod).

Then in HS we knew each other. We built on that until by graduation there was nobody you could mention in the class that you could not put a name and face together. Many of those folks stayed close, some didn’t….but hey that happens right?

2 of my daughters good friends (she is in 5th this year) are going to a different MS than her. Already she is “pulling back” b/c she knows she won’t see them next year…I keep asking her to see which HS they feed (likely the same as us) and to get numbers so we can continue to let her bond for the next 3 years outside of the classroom.

Techmom

April 26th, 2011
3:31 pm

@Kat, I love it. We had a persistent issue with one of my son’s 3 academic teachers in 6th grade (they were on teams which is supposed to be a better format but quite frankly, if one of the teachers is completely inadequate, it doesn’t much matter what the format is). I kept meeting with her and meeting with her to try to resolve the issues but it wasn’t helping. I talked to one of the other teachers on the ‘team’ and really got the feeling that even the other teachers didn’t feel like she doing her job. Finally when I felt like I was getting no where, I asked to meet with the principal. The meeting was scheduled with one of the assistant principals, the counselor and the teacher. The asst. princ totally brushed us off and basically kicked us out of her office after 20 minutes b/c she “had another meeting”.

I went home, drafted an email detailing all of our concerns and issues, scanned every document she had sent home and sent it to the principal and cc’d the school board. Within 3 days she was out of that classroom. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt she was inadequate or that wouldn’t have happened but maybe my information gave them the evidence they needed to get her out of the classroom. I was just so frustrated that it took so long for any kind of action and the whole time we were treated like our son was the problem and given the attitude of “how dare we raise an issue?”

middle school teacher

April 26th, 2011
10:32 pm

@ Kat and techmom – the horror stories you’re both describing are not what I think people mean when the term “parental involvement” is tossed about. Those are issues between your child and their teacher. You became involved due to the problem. That’s a negative scenario – you came in negatively, because you were upset. The teacher was likely defensive, reactive instead of proactive, and the administration was put in the difficult position of making you all happy – and let’s face it, that ain’t gonna happen. Of course you’re going to feel that schools only give lip service to parental invovlement in that scenario – it’s lose-lose.

What I want to know is how involved were you prior to these situations (I’m not accusing – I really want to know)? Did you visit the school for meet and greet? Did you go to back to school night? Did you go to the annual conference? Did you shadow your child for a day? Did you join the PTSA and volunteer in any capacity at the school? I’m asking because all of these things are available at our school, and I hate when the ONLY time we hear from a parent is when there is a problem. That’s NOT involvement. That’s damage control.

Prior to teaching (my daughter was a 9th grader in hs when I started), I was very involved, and I had very few problems. Because I went to back to school night, I had info on how classes were structured and how teachers taught. There were no surprises. Because I was in the schools volunteering, I knew who the good teachers were, and the ones to avoid when possible (I may be a teacher, but I’m not going to support a poor teacher – the scenario described by Kat is pathetic). I also knew which teachers to watch, if I got less than fabulous vibes at BTS night. Because I saw teachers in positive situations, it was easier to deal with them when there were problems or questions. I actually have my current job due to the relationship I established with my children’s teachers.

I’m not trying to slam anyone – I’m trying to shed light on the fact that schools really DO want you involved, and that doing so can help stave off future problems. Don’t let your first encounter be a negative one. Don’t ask your kids how their day was (”fine, mom” – end of convo); instead ask them specifically, “What did you do in so-and-so’s class today?” Check the blogs and the homework hotlines and the online gradebook and ask, “Did you turn in that homework?” or “How’s the project for Ms. Jone’s class coming?”

Too many parents adopt a hands-off approach in middle school – and it’s not hard, either, with them pushing you away about as hard as they can. They don’t need a friend; they need a parent – someone to say ‘no’ (they WANT you to set those limits). Make them spend time with the family – even when they’re less than pleasant. Your kids need you more, not less.

And to end with a classic funny, “Mrs. Smith, if you try not to believe everything your child tells you about our class, I’ll try hard not to believe everything he tells me about your family.”