How to Be an Effective Middle School Teacher Part 4

These are the final five tips I have for you about how to be an effective middle school teacher. Feel free to add your own tips in the comment section!

Be choosey about what you grade.

There is only so much time in the day. Pick the most important things to grade, and don’t get behind in your grading. Return graded work to students quickly so they have time to learn from their mistakes and get feedback about how to improve. I think we’ve all had that teacher who returned assignments a month or two or three after assigning them. I don’t know about you, but that always irritated me. Here are some tips on how to reduce grading time.

Get feedback on how to improve your teaching.

This can be from your students. When I was teaching middle school, my students would grade me twice a year. Their comments helped me reflect on my teaching practices and make improvements. I gained valuable insight from those little dudes and dudettes. If you’re serious about improving your teaching skills, let your students grade you. You can also request to have fellow teachers and administrators observe you. Observations are scary. I know. I hated them. But I learned so much from them that they were almost always worth the sleepless nights, nail-biting, and massive pit stains that preceded them.

Differentiate your lessons when feasible.

Challenge your students at their level. Too much challenge and they will shut down. Too little challenge and they aren’t really learning. Differentiation can mean the difference between an okay teacher and an amazing teaching. Many times, the most advanced students in class don’t get the challenge they need. Here’s how you can challenge those students.

Know that some classes are just wonky.

This doesn’t make you a bad teacher. Without fail, there has always been one “off” class every year of my teaching career. I’ve made great strides with those classes, usually, but never perfected them. What works for most classes might not work for your “off” class.

Take care of yourself!

Teacher burnout is real and common. Your needs need to be met. If you’re unhappy and struggling, you aren’t your best teacher self. Regularly take time for yourself and do what you love.

Thank you for reading! I'd love to hear your tips! Please add your own teacher tips to the comments section below.

Previous Teacher Tips:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

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How to Be an Effective Middle School Teacher Part 3

Read these tips to become the best teacher for your students.

Lean on other teachers.

The teachers around you understand what you’re going through. They can provide a shoulder to cry on, chocolate to eat, and solutions to stuff you’re dealing with in your classroom. I remember many Tootsie Rolls were eaten with my fellow teachers during my first year of teaching. They (both teachers and Tootsie Rolls) can help.

Form a positive relationship with each student.

Classes are more fun for everyone when students like and respect their teacher. More positive adult role models are always a good thing. Do you have a difficult student you’re struggling to connect with? Here’s how you can form positive connections with ALL of your students.

Use a paperwork organization system that works for you.

Teachers have a lot of paperwork. Find a good way to organize all of those student papers and documents before the school year even begins. Some problems happen when transporting student work to and from school for grading purposes. Originally, I used paperclips to keep my different class sections separated. Well, let me tell you, paperclips don’t like to stay on bulging stacks of paper that are repeatedly crammed into a bag and then pulled out again. My eventual solution was one of those expanding file folders with multiple pockets. I labeled each pocket with a different class section. Worked like a charm. Until the little claspy-thing weakened and the papers spilled all over the floor in one big ol’ mess. #experience

Communicate with parents often.

Unfortunately, the first time many parents of middle school students hear from a teacher is negative news about how little Jimmy or little Janie is acting up in class. Try to recognize and share positive things with parents whenever they pop up. Also, parents have a wealth of knowledge about their kids. Time and again parent surveys given at the beginning of the year have proven invaluable in my class. Learn more about using parent surveys in your classroom.

Anticipate possible problems and misunderstandings.

When lesson planning you should dedicate just a little time to thinking about what problems might arise during the lesson. Come up with solutions, clearer directions, and/or better approaches. This has saved my sanity many times, and, more importantly, decreased wasted learning time for my students.

How to Be an Effective Middle School Teacher Part 2

Read these tips to become the best teacher for your students.

Incorporate socializing into your lessons whenever possible.

Most middle school students thrive on working with their peers. When they aren’t given the opportunity to talk to each other, they will often create their own social opportunities at inopportune times during your lesson. If you provide occasional times to communicate with classmates, then things will go more smoothly for all of you. These can include Think Pair Share, explaining a definition to a classmate, or coming up with examples together.

Allow for movement!

Students have plenty of time to be blobs. Movement gets their blood flowing which improves their ability to learn and refocus after learning difficult content. Movement is especially important during long block classes when students don’t have passing periods to get out their wiggles. Have students get up to turn in their own assignments; have a clear procedure for this, but don’t do it for them. Let students collect their own supplies. Have students do certain movements to show their answers (hop for answer A, flap your arms for answer B, etc.). During especially lethargic classes, I've been known to instruct my students to give a high five to five different people in the room. One of my favorite ways to practice content is with stations, which allow for plenty of movement and socialization. Here are some tips for how to effectively use stations in your classroom.

Be flexible.

One thing I love about teaching middle school students is how every day is completely different with them. They are strange people at this age and that means you’ll have to roll with the (hopefully not literal) punches.

Underestimate how long a lesson will take.

There have been a few lessons I taught that ended a good thirty minutes earlier than I expected them too. Wowza. Don’t let that be you. Have plenty of components to your lesson, a back up plan for what to do in case the lesson ends early, or a trusty time filler you can use in emergencies. My students LOVED when I pulled out my book of fun questions. It will not—and should not—kill thirty minutes of time, but it helped with a few minutes here and there throughout the year. Learn how to make your own fun question book, or get mine from my TPT store.

Check for understanding often.

Trust me, you don’t want to have taught an entire lesson only to realize at the end of class that your students are still trying to figure out step one. There are many ways to check for understanding throughout your lesson: cold calling, quick multiple choice questions, listening to student discussions, having students explain things back to you, and even counting the number of blank stares you receive.

How to Be an Effective Middle School Teacher Part 1

So you want to be a boss teacher eh? Read these tips to become the best teacher for your students.

Build solid lesson plans with clear objectives. 

It all starts here. If you don't have a good lesson plan, then your students won't learn as much as they could in the short amount of time they have with you. If the lesson is boring or if your students only have passive learning roles, then not much learning will take place. Likewise, if the lesson is tons of fun but not actually aligned to learning objectives, your students aren’t going to learn what they need to be successful. Really think about what you want your students to learn and the best way to reach them.

Have and follow a behavior management plan.

Do what works for you and your style of teaching. Not sure how to get started? Read about the classroom rules and consequences that have been successful with my seventh grade students.

Have clear behavioral expectations for every activity and communicate those expectations to your students.

Fun, well planned activities can turn into nightmares involving evil clowns in less than three seconds when middle school students are involved. Before beginning any activity, clearly explain how students should and should not behave. It only takes a couple of minutes and, man, it’ll make a huge difference.

Use a routine your students can count on.

Routines make students feel safe and comfortable. Class runs smoother if students know what to expect. In my class we typically started with a Do Now followed by a quick review of previous content, an introduction of new material, practice with that material, and an informal assessment or Exit Ticket. Keep in mind, you don’t have to be completely anal about it. Test days, lab days, assembly days and more will jostle your typical routine around and that’s okay.  Just be consistent with your routine when possible and when it makes sense to do so.

Include the “why” piece in your lessons.

Students should know why they are learning something. When middle school students understand how a lesson relates to them and their future, they become more invested in your class and what they’re learning. They are better behaved because they want to learn what you’re sharing with them. Here's how to include the “why” in your lessons.

Keep reading about more ways to be an effective middle school teacher in Part 2.