It’s Smarty Mom Saturday and I am especially excited about this week’s post. The timing couldn’t be more perfect as we’re all getting ready for the start of a new school year. Remember Robin? She is a middle school teacher for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and shares with us some GREAT tips on surviving the transition from Elementary School to Middle School.
2 children- Jackson (9), Savannah (6)
Married to Jason
Middle school is scary for both parents and students. It’s bigger, more crowded, more complicated and can be very overwhelming. Sending your baby to elementary school is emotional but yet it feels safe because it seems to be cute, cuddly and nurturing. Middle school on the other hand can bring to mind all the worrisome things like lockers, changing for PE, tons of homework and hormones. Ugh. How do you prepare as a mom and how do you prepare your baby? (No matter what age or how tall they are…they’ll always be our “baby”!)
Having taught middle school for a very long time, I’ve learned a lot from my students and their parents. Now that I am a mom of a school aged child who will be heading off to middle school in two years, I have already started thinking about what I’ll do to help us both endure and even enjoy these potentially challenging middle years.
I write this post wearing two hats and after having conferenced and talked with hundreds of parents over the years, this is what I believe will be helpful to know as your child transitions to middle school.
What the students worry about and how to help:
Their Lockers: Oh how they worry, struggle and obsess about their lockers. The ability to master the left, right, left sequence is almost impossible for some. I always look forward to November because by then almost my entire homebase (homeroom for old schoolers) can get in their lockers. If you have a rotary lock at home let them practice or pick one up at the dollar store. It’s the first thing they ask about and not being able to open their locker has brought tears to many. Practicing on one at home just to learn the technique is a HUGE help!
Their Schedule: A day classes, B day classes, semester courses, quarter classes, elective wheels and a crazy computer printout that is hard even for the adults to decipher! Sixth grade teachers know how incredibly confusing reading their schedule can be so we strive to do our best to explain it. Over the years we’ve designed different charts and systems to help them understand it. When they bring it home make a few copies of it. Put one in their agenda or even in each notebook. Hang the A day/B day calendar on your fridge and get in the habit of identifying which “day” it is each morning so they’ll be clear on what classes they’ll have.
Homework & Their Agenda: There is more homework in middle school and typically it is more rigorous. Establish a homework routine and space before the year begins. Insist your student shares their agenda with you nightly and have them highlight each completed task. Even if the school doesn’t’ require it, sign their agenda. It is a phenomenal communication tool between home and school and it keeps an essential component in the mix….the student. In a time when parents can easily email the teacher and ask about the student’s homework or an assignment, the student’s role is often removed. Middle school is not just about grades, it’s more importantly a training ground for life. Middle school students need and must learn responsibility and organization. This prepares them for high school and college. Make it their job to copy their assignments in their agenda and to share communication between you and their teacher. I am so appalled when frequently my parents will say,”(their child) wont show me his/her agenda!” Seriously??? Since when do pre-teens have a choice??
Inevitably there is going to be a time when the homework has not been written down or is illegible. To again put the responsibility on the student, at the onset of school have them get the number of a buddy in each of their classes (especially math and language arts which meet every day) that they can call in such situations. The more you put the responsibility on them in sixth grade, the better off they’ll be and the saner you’ll be down the road.
The A day/B day schedule for Science and Social Studies makes it tempting to put off their homework until the next night. This is a huge mistake because they’re more likely to forget the assignment entirely and the relevance to the day’s lesson is lost.
School Rules: When we go over the rights and responsibilities handbook the first days of school my students bombard me with a zillion “what if” questions. They worry about knowing the rules and not getting in trouble. Really go over this with your student and talk about it. I stress to my son now about laser pointers being a weapon at school, which will get you, suspended and ruin your chances of going to college. (I exaggerate a bit to make sure it sets in good.) Having a boy I worry about him making an innocent but severe mistake. (Same goes with how to deal with fighting.)
The cell phone and dress code policies are huge too. We’ve had many upset moms who found out their baby’s cell phone would not be returned for five days because it went off in class (and quite a few times it was the mom who had called or texted!). Sixth graders are also eager to make friends and loan their cell phones to friends who get them confiscated. Again, an important reason to go over school and parental expectations early on before such a situation arises.
The dress code is more of a challenge for the girls. As the young ladies grow sometimes their legs are longer making their shorts shorter. It’s devastating for a young lady to have to call home because her shorts are too short. Get in the habit of doing a subtle check before they walk out the door. Two other aspects of the middle schooler’s dress to consider is the ladies’ need for a brazier and the importance of deodorant for both the gals and guys. As puberty rages in the middle school being proactive on both fronts avoids teasing or hurtful comments.
Making Friends: The social aspect of middle school is huge. You can’t pick your kid’s friends although it would be really nice but you can influence their decision by talking about what qualities make a good friend. Get them involved with other kids who share their same interests. Middle school clubs allow kids to shine in their comfort zone whether it is chess, beta or student council.
Remember middle schoolers don’t like to be grilled but if they know you’ll listen without passing judgment or giving a ton of advice, you’ll find they let you in their world more. Kind of like husbands…we like to tell them things/vent but we’re not looking for a solution (which they always seem to have). We just want to vent and have someone say…you’re right that was crummy or I can see how that hurt your feelings. Such validation is huge with a middle schooler when it comes to friendship dilemmas.
What moms worry about and how to help:
Communication: No more special day of the week folders with all the communication goods! You have to be much more proactive in middle school. Visit the school website and get on the fore front by joining the PTA. Most teachers have webpages that allow you to sign up for bulletins. This is a great tool for both parents and students. Middles schoolers are big on privacy so they wont love you going through their book bags but “overseeing” nightly clean outs is a great way to keep up with what is going on at the school and with your students grades.
Email is a phenomenal tool but use it wisely! Touch base with your student’s teacher but don’t haunt them. That is very counter -productive.
So Many Teachers: In elementary school you have that one special go to teacher who knows your child so well. You get to know them and in most cases love them. Now you have four core teachers (language arts, math, science and social studies) and then as many four to six elective teachers! You and your student now have so many names, faces, expectations and of course…email address to learn! GO TO OPEN HOUSE! They may not remember you or your child quite yet but you’ll know them. If you have special concerns, contact the guidance counselor and schedule an appointment with the team (core teachers) early on. In middle school most conferences are with the core team not just one teacher. Don’t feel out numbered but realize it’s an opportunity to hear from everyone and share information. The guidance counselor is a phenomenal liaison between you and the team and in helping your child transition. Get to know them and encourage your child to as well.
Middle school teachers may not need you in their classroom to stuff folders and help with stations but they do appreciate your support. If you have the time to volunteer let them know and they may take you up on it but don’t be offended if they don’t ask. Typically the biggest help parents can provide is sending things in. You can never have enough tissue or hand-sanitizer in middle school. We have ninety plus kids a day coming through our door so our supplies dwindle much faster than in the elementary classroom.
It is so important to foster a collaborative relationship with your middle school teachers. Don’t be reactionary or quick to email with lots of emotion and always go to the teacher first. As a parent I’ve fallen into the quick to react and then felt foolish later trap. Middle school teachers interact with lots of parents. Don’t stick out to them because you email every time a grade is posted or question every assignment. Not only do I appreciate the parents who respect my role as the educator, check in on their student’s progress without obsessing, and who put responsibility on their student but as a mom, I strive to follow their example.
Grades: We hear so often from parents how their students earned straight As through elementary school and the same parents are outraged by a B or worse yet a C on a quiz or test or even the report card. Remember middle school is more challenging. Be careful not to put too much pressure on your student. Keep things in perspective. It is one test in sixth grade or one quarter out of four. If your student doesn’t earn the A, except it and help them devise a plan to do better.
Organization will be imperative to academic success. Help your student by keeping a calendar on the fridge with up coming due dates and when progress reports are coming home. Utilize the sites that supplement your student’s textbooks and make use of the set of textbooks that are sent home for the year. So often when they’re returned in June they spine hasn’t been broken. They’re great for nights when your student has no homework.
If your student attends a CMS school utilize Parent Assist but again …don’t become obsessed. Teachers have ten days to post a grade and every grade below a 100% doesn’t warrant an email. Teach your student how to check it and make them responsible.
Middle school doesn’t have to be scary or overwhelming. I am always amazed how much my students grow and develop into teenagers. Enjoy your middle schooler and except them for the hormonal, grown-up wannabe that they are!
First, I appreciate CSP having an article about older children. This is very timely in my life! Robin, thank you for taking the time to cover so many important issues – school rules, friends, academics. I have a 5th grader and think I can incorporate many of your tips for this year and will re-read this post next summer. This post was great!
I also like that this article helped those of us with older kids. My twins are starting middle school this year and I'm beside myself. Would love to see some follow up articles. When I think back on how awful junior high was for me, I want to be sure and help my girls avoid the pitfalls.
Great information! Any advice for helping your student get the right teacher? My son needs to be separated from some kids he had in his 5th grade class. Should I just call the principal?
I would not call the principal about separating kids. See what happens first. If your child is with some of those kids, it will more than likely be for just an hour anyway before they go to their next class.
Didn't you have a post on helping students with homework? I think it had middle school and high school options and i wanted to read it agaon now that the school year is starting back. I can't seem to find it on here. Jamie
Hey, Jamie! What a great post that was that you are referring to. It was by our TSP team and was called "Homework-To Help or Not to Help"…ran on Monday, April 13. Here's the link: http://charlottesmartypants.blogspot.com/2009/04/homework-to-help-or-not-to-help.htmlThanks for reading!
what a great post. we are far from middle school, but I really thought this was good info, lots of stuff I never would have even thought of!
What changes should CMS parents expect with all the budget cuts? I've heard horror stories about 40 in a classroom and no counselors.
I have not idea. Sorry! It all depends on your child's school. If you are concerned about class size, you can always ask those questions at open house. You grade level administrator is also a great contact. Typically each school has an assistant principal assigned for each grade level.
Depending on your needs, the website CMS system can be as basic or detailed as you'd like.