Middle school teachers hear a lot about consistency—how every member of the middle school teaching team needs to be on the same page about every potential issue. I’ve never seen that actually happen, and I’m not sure it should. Different kids respond differently to adults. Some need more structure, while some need more freedom. Some need tough love, and some need a shoulder to cry on.

A successful middle school teaching team is like a good hors d’oeuvres table; a blend of delicious components that are very different but work well together. Here are six different types of people that I believe are essential to any middle school teaching team:

1. The Stickler 

She’s the veggie tray of your spread. Nobody really wants to bring the veggie tray, but everyone needs a palate-cleansing cherry tomato now and again. The stickler is the one who cares about the rules. She will make sure the kids are in dress code, keep them in line in the hall, and keep your team in good standing with the administration. It’s a pretty thankless job, but somebody has to turn in the bus request for the field trip and play bad cop when it comes to volume in the cafeteria. You should give the stickler continuous free access to your candy drawer because it’s a tough job without a lot of glamour.

2. The Overachiever

She’s your cheese board. One kind of fancy cheese might have sufficed, but she’s brought four and an assortment of crackers. The overachiever actually remembers to make the kids enter all those essay and art contests. She chaperones weekend events and overnight field trips. She plans performances for all the special school events. The overachiever goes way beyond the call of duty to give your kids opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.

3. The Softie

Chocolate-covered strawberries, anyone? The softie fills in the gap for the perpetually overworked and understaffed counseling office. He’s the one the kids approach to talk about their breakups or a fight with parents or the general angst of being in middle school. You know why you need the softie? Because he is the one who can gently and sensitively provide the stinky kid with a stick of deodorant and explain why it’s important without hurting any feelings.

4. The Drill Sergeant

Like an assortment of gourmet olives, he is strong and no-nonsense. Providing the perfect balance to the softie, the drill sergeant is where your kids get tough love. After the softie provides counseling, the drill sergeant gets the students back to work on math problems and tells them they better shape up and make something of their lives.

5. The Pollyanna

Mmm, that plate of cookies at the end of the table. Sweet, welcoming, calling my name … the Pollyanna always sees the best in the kids. She is the one who in the weekly meeting, says something like, “OK, I know Andrew is failing every class and never does homework and mooned the teachers’ lounge last week and also climbed out a window during math class, but have you seen his beautiful drawings of birds?” This teacher tirelessly advocates for the kids and provides an important perspective when it comes to dealing with infuriating, exhausting, crazy-making middle schoolers.

6. The Innovator

This is the hors d’oeuvre you approach with a little trepidation, like deep-fried grasshoppers or anything with squid ink. Why try that when Brie en croûte is sitting right there looking perfectly delightful? Well, because everybody needs a change and it might be the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted. The innovator is constantly coming up with new ideas and is convincing enough to get the rest of the team to go along. New system of tracking kids? Why not! Test prep Olympics with actual medal ceremonies? Sounds good! This teacher is creative, organized, persuasive, and a crucial component of the ideal middle school teaching team.

If your middle school teaching team has less than six members, don’t worry—there is plenty of room for overlap. I’m a Pollyanna-Softie-Innovator, which drives the Stickler a little crazy but works well with both the Drill Sergeant and the Overachiever (who are often the same person).

Yes, it’s smart to be consistent on the important stuff, but kids also benefit from the chance to work with a variety of personalities and styles. Building a balanced middle school teaching team makes learning ever more digestible. Also, I am now extremely hungry and about to eat all the cheese.

Are there any other personality styles that you would add to the list? Please share in the comments.