Middle school is tough in a number of different ways. Thinking back to my middle school years, I remember the students not understanding one another and certainly not understanding themselves. Students in middle school are simply wired differently, and have different social-emotional, as well as academic needs, than students in elementary or high school.  This is a time where it is imperative for students to learn good habits to help put them on the right path toward success in high school and beyond.

Transition Years

If you take a poll and ask adults to reflect back on their school years, many of those adults would say that middle school was the hardest part of their schooling. In my experience working with middle school students, this is the time where students are figuring out “who they are”. Many are not confident within themselves and are less accepting of those around them. In high school, you begin to see a major change as students are more comfortable with themselves and, therefore, are more accepting of others.

There is often a sort of disconnect between the curriculum and the way that students learn during the middle school years. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education report, students experience many changes in their bodies and brains during this time, and educators can better respond to student needs by understanding these changes. Simply having a more in-depth understanding of students and their academic, as well as social-emotional needs, can lead to increased student achievement, close learning gaps, and help students develop higher-level thinking skills.

It is important for students to develop good study habits during their middle school years. This can be beneficial to students in high school and beyond. Many times this is difficult for your gifted learners because most academic things come naturally to them, so in their elementary years, many times they don’t need to study much to earn good grades. As the content gets harder, and studying becomes unavoidable, students need to learn the study habits that will best suit their needs.

Middle school is the time in a child’s life that is so important in developing an appreciation for learning and to value education in general. This can be the turning point for many students in either a positive or negative direction. Instilling the notion of being a lifelong learner is important at every stage of education, but even more so during the middle school years. They say that hindsight is always 20/20, and when many look back, they wish they had taken a different approach to their schooling in the middle school years.

Social-Emotional Development

Middle school is a crucial time for students’ social-emotional development. As students are developing an understanding of oneself, it is hard to understand others. Students need positive interactions with adults in their “school lives”. Many students do not understand where they fit in society. Even at something as simple as a family party, children this age find themselves in the middle. They do not know whether to play with the children or hang around the adults.

During middle school, most students experience a disconnect between themselves and their parents. They look to other adults as role models, and their friends and peers are a top tier of importance in their lives. Students surrounding themselves with others that make good choices is important during this developmental stage, as the choices of others can greatly affect the choices each individual makes.

Social media plays an integral role influencing our youth of today. So many middle school aged students have idolized various Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat influencers. When you ask children what they want to be when they grow up, many reply with some sort of social media influencer. This is the first era of children growing up with these types of influences, and it is imperative that we understand the various types of pressure students feel to live up to a certain standard set forth by social media.

Throughout the Covid-19 Pandemic, it has become more apparent than ever that we need to focus on students and their social-emotional development. Most recently, I have taken on the role as the administrator for my school district’s Summer Enrichment Program. There are various academic aspects to this program, but students look forward to the social-emotional learning component, and the counselors are constantly running over the time period allotted because students are really opening up and discussing their feelings. The middle school students have responded especially well to social-emotional piece, as for many it has been lacking for the past year and a half.

Preparation for the Future

Preparing these students for the future beyond middle school is so important. Class meetings are an excellent way to dive into social-emotional components of learning, as well as to prepare students for meetings in the career world. Class meetings also create a safe space in the classroom where students can voice their worries and concerns.

This is a time in the students’ lives where they are trying to find their identity and teachers, as well as school counselors, can play an important role in this. Although rebellion frequently happens during this life stage, this is also where students find out who they are and different values and ideals that are important to them.

It is certainly not easy to grow up in this day and age, but with proper guidance and support, these students can overcome the challenges presented to them and become well-rounded people. Sumit Saroha stated, “It doesn’t matter what others are doing, it matters what you are doing”. There couldn’t be more truth to this, and it is up to the educators in the world to help the middle school students understand this and apply it to their own lives.

*Updated August 2021