What Is Middle School All About?

I ask myself this question about every other day. Some days I even ask WHY am I doing this? Since you are reading this, there is a pretty solid chance that you have a middle schooler or work with a middle schooler, and an even better chance that you have asked this question as well. Unfortunately, after 32 years in this profession, I have yet to find one solid answer. Now, I will tell you that I have found dozens of answers, each of them accurate at the time, but then the appropriate answer seems to change the next day.

Let me tell you what I think middle school is not, and then get into what I think it is. Middle school is not about grades for the sake of grades. Oh sure, you need grades to see progress, what learning is going on, that type of thing. But the middle school years have to be about more than just a letter on a paper. Middle school is not about preparing for high school. Hear me out on this one. We help set up the foundation for the next level, no question. But there is more to what we do than that, so this is not what middle school is about (solely). Middle school is not about

So, why do we do this middle school thing? Here is what I believe about middle school, with all my heart. Middle school is a time for exploring different interests. A time to allow kid to start to get an idea of what their futures might look like (notice I said an IDEA, not a solid plan at the age of 11). They get a chance to get to know other people who are different from them, to learn how to be accepting of those differences. They learn how to form an opinion, how to defend their opinion while still allowing others to have a differing opinion. They get a chance to learn how to make friends, how to handle it when those friendships turn out bad. They get an opportunity to accept more responsibilities, and to learn about the consequences of not fulfilling those responsibilities. They learn about making decisions, both good and bad. They begin to see that there is more to the world than the 2 foot bubble around them. They learn to ask questions, about themselves, about the world, and about their part in that world. They begin to see what their contributions may be. Above all, they learn to be flexible, to adapt to changes, because all of the things mentioned above will change a thousand times in the next ten years, and they need to know how to adjust the plan.

As a principal, I can tell you that some of our kids come to us with these lessons already well ingrained in them. Some others get these lessons right away. Some take a little bit longer to learn these lessons, but they get there. Some don’t get there while they are with me, but I hope that we at least laid some of the foundation for when they do get it. Sadly, some never get it. But however they get there, and whenever they get there, that is when I know that we have the right answer to the question. At least for that day. We all know the answer will soon change.

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About drellena

Principal of Tomahawk Creek Middle School in Chesterfield County, Virginia. President of the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals.
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