Middle school is a very challenging age group to teach. You have some students who are maturing towards high school, and others who seem to still be stuck in third grade. This is also the age where students learn to begin testing authority and boundaries — this is (unfortunately) normal!
In my experience, even with all of the raging hormones, boundary testing, and immature behavior, middle school students can also be a delight to teach. They come in ready to learn and are often simply looking for an adult who can guide them during this sensitive period of growth. By having a game plan and implementing a few simple classroom management strategies, you’ll ensure that your students can grow into scholars in just a few short months.
The five strategies outlined below are a good starting point when you’re trying to manage middle school students. However, remember that the true key to a successful classroom is building relationships — students rarely work responsibly or behave well for a teacher that they don’t like or respect.
5 strategies for middle school classroom management
1. Have a plan
It doesn’t matter if you’re the most engaging teacher in the world — you’ll always have students who test your patience and push the limits of your boundaries in class. When this happens, it’s very important that you have some sort of plan in place to deal with misbehavior. In reality, the basics of most classroom management plans are the same: You set expectations, explain them to your students, and then follow the plan.
In my own middle school classroom, I was a fan of using a restorative justice type of practice. My plan went like this: On the first day of school, I’d discuss attending skills and expectations — in other words, how to be a student. These were usually things like how to be respectful while others are talking and how to be active listeners. With the first redirection of behavior, I’d simply ask the student how their attending behavior was at that moment. This usually resulted in them responding, “Oh, sorry” and correcting their behavior. And often, that was all it took.
However, there were always students who simply needed a bit more. So on the second redirection of the student’s behavior, I’d ask them to step into the hallway. I’d give them a couple of minutes to think, and then I’d come out and discuss how to improve their attending skill and be more successful in class. We’d also talk about next steps if the behavior continued. Taking them out of class for this is important because it prevents the student from escalating their behavior simply to entertain their peers.
Finally, if the student really didn’t get it for the day and needed redirection a third time, I’d send them to a partner teacher with a reflection sheet. I’d then make sure to debrief the next day before allowing the student to return to class.
The beautiful thing about a plan like this is that it affords the student multiple opportunities for success and allows them to explain themselves or clarify why they are struggling. The bonus is that it almost always takes the anger and frustration right out of management because you can execute all of the steps in a cool and calm manner.
2. Be consistent
Regardless of what plan you create or choose, the key is to remain consistent. If a teacher applies a plan to one student but not to another, then the plan will fail. Remember that students see themselves as individuals in a vacuum — they do not understand gray areas and will feel slighted if Jacob gets a different consequence from Maria for doing the same thing. By being consistent, you’ll ensure that students understand that the rules apply to everyone and that staying out of trouble is as simple as following the rules.
All students, but especially middle school students, are creatures of habit. They crave structures and systems to help organize their lives and create a sense of safety and predictability. This is realized when you’re consistent — a student is not left guessing whether you’re going to give them a consequence when your expectations are clear.
3. Give students a voice
Middle school students are clamoring to be heard — they’re just finding their voices as individuals and are trying to figure out how to navigate the world as they grow older and gain more independence. Especially during this developmental stage, it’s critical to give students the chance to feel heard. Giving students opportunities in each class meeting to share their opinion and express their voice can cut down on random outbursts and help build a classroom community.
In addition to this free voice time, I also like to give students a chance to set their own rules. This helps them to think about why we have rules and the motivation for certain rules in the classroom. I usually start by asking a guiding question like “Why do we have to come to class?” or “Why do we have school anyway?” Inevitably, this leads to a conversation about how we come to school to learn and grow, and we have certain needs and expectations that need to be met in order for that to happen. Students really enjoy this conversation and feel like they’re a part of their own community. If done well, this can even lead to you achieving that elusive self-policing classroom where students actually hold one another accountable.
4. Have good reasons behind every expectation
Middle schoolers are entering an age where they stop blindly following adults and authority figures and need to know “why?” for everything. Trust me, having a purpose that supports your expectations goes a long way. You should be able to explain why you expect students to do their work, to come to class on time, to sit and listen while you are lecturing, and so on. When students understand the purpose of each expectation, they can then understand how it makes the
In my experience with my own classes, when students know why each expectation is in place, they tend not to argue as much and hold themselves more accountable for their behavior. It also helps them put their behavior as an individual into the context of the class group as a whole — students begin to see that their behavior affects others and their ability to learn. Even adults struggle to follow rules or expectations that haven’t been justified — naturally, middle schoolers are no different.
5. Praise the positive
Classroom management should never consist of discipline alone, rather, it should employ a holistic approach where good behavior is rewarded more than negative behavior is punished. I make it my goal
Praising the positive is not just about recognizing the teacher’s pets — it’s for those who are usually getting in trouble, too. In fact, I generally target these students with positive praise and try to catch them doing the right things. This builds rapport and can help get troublemakers on your side. Many teachers believe in giving tangible incentives to students for doing the right thing. However, I’d be cautious with this — we want students to behave well because it’s the right way to act, not just because we’re offering them material rewards in return.
There you have it! If you follow these five strategies, you’re bound to have a successful, well-managed middle school classroom. Having a plan that’s consistent, reasonable, and respectful of a
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