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?