Transitioning to Middle School-A Rite of Passage
May 19, 2020
Understanding the Transition
Moving from the comfort of elementary school, where many students have spent 6 years between Kindergarten and 5th grade, to the big, scary world of middle school can seem overwhelming to students and to parents. Students will go from having one primary teacher in one classroom to 6 or 7 different teachers in each of whom meets in his/her own space. Students will be charged with managing binders in big lockers and be expected to get to class on time by battling their way through the crowded hallways between classes. Even trips to the bathroom will require planning and thought! The comfort of settling into a single desk and chair for the day will be disrupted by the clanging of bells every 53 minutes, signaling that it’s time to move to yet another location.
As students enter middle school, many are excited to be somewhere new and to meet new people from other schools. They may also be nervous about the amount of homework they will have, worried about being bullied by older kids and unsure of how to fit into this new world.
It’s important that parents stay keenly aware of their child’s feelings about moving to a new school. For those who are in a K-8 building, they may not be going to a new physical building but may be moving to another floor of the school and even that change can be nerve racking. Students at this age are also going through their own hormonal changes, which can exaggerate their fears and reactions.
Understanding your Children's Expectations in Middle School
Ask your child what they expect from Middle School and what they think it is going to be like for them. In many cases, their impressions come from what they’ve heard from other people, like siblings and older friends and from what they have seen on TV. They may also have heard things like, “Once you go to Middle School, the teachers aren’t going to be as easy on you as we are…better shape up,” on more than one occasion from their well-intentioned elementary school teachers. Learning about your child’s expectations-both positive or negative-will help you know how best to support them. Kids at this age are not always able to express their fears and anxiety and sometimes lash out at seemingly benign things. Gaining an understanding of how your child is thinking about this change and growing up in general will help you to make sense of some of those outbursts.
Middle School is also a time for new opportunities and increased freedom. Students freely roam the halls, without having to stand in line and wait for permission to move. They often have classes with different people and develop strong friendships that last through high school and beyond. Students also often have some choice of classes in their schedules and can begin to pursue or develop interests through elective classes, sports, clubs and other enrichment activities. Parents can help their child take advantage of these opportunities by keeping the lines of communication open and staying aware of the options available.
In Middle School, students are expected to be much more independent than they were in elementary school and take ownership for their academic experience. Unlike elementary school in which one teacher quarterbacks the education plan, students take on the responsibility for themselves and serve as the central hub of information shared by their many teachers. Some schools have advisory programs in which a teacher or other adult serves as the mentor for the student to help guide them, but in general, students are expected to shoulder most of the responsibility at school. The academic expectations ramp up significantly and the pace of the learning speeds up. While many schools have a coordinating calendar for teachers to list when major tests or assignments are due, it is not uncommon to have multiple tests or assignments due on the same day. The amount of homework increases as well. Students will need to find ways to balance their time in order to keep up with what is expected. At home, parents can still stay involved, but try to support your child in taking ownership for their schoolwork. As an example, help your child develop their own study schedule and plan for completing their work, but also help them stay on task by periodically checking on their progress. You will see them mature and develop over time and the level of your involvement in the first semester of 6th grade may be much greater than it is the second semester of 8th grade.
Making a successful transition to high school is a step towards ensuring a successful high school experience overall. Taking time the summer before middle school to help your child prepare can set the foundation for a successful beginning of their middle school experience. Be sure to attend any parent meetings at school and read the information that is sent home to ensure that you are also well-informed. Lastly, be patient with your child and listen to their concerns-this is a critical time for them to understand that you are their advocate and will be there to support them throughout their educational career.