It takes a special kind of educator to be a middle school teacher. As eighth grade teacher David Yancey says, “When you first decide to teach middle school, you do everything you can to get through that first year. And then you realize—you need help.”
We recently interviewed David for a Facebook Live event to talk about creative ways to reach middle school students. David teaches social studies at Edwards Middle School in Conyers Georgia. He integrates rap into his lessons, rewriting the lyrics to popular songs to teach key concepts. His video of one such rap, “Mad and Losing,” went viral earlier this year.
Watch the Facebook Live video for more tips from David on working with middle school students, and to hear him give a live rap demo at the end! During the event, several other middle school teachers chimed in the comments to offer their tips and advice. Here are some of our favorites on creative ways to reach middle school students.
1. Find ways to show you care
“Kids don’t care what you know until they know you care,” –Rocky B.
You might be tempted to pass all of your knowledge on to your students, but if they’re not listening, it’s going to get lost. Plus, teens and tweens can naturally be a little skeptical, so look for your own way to show them that you really do care.
2. Add a little song and dance
“In the classroom, everything’s better with a song and dance party.” –Mary E.
Take a lesson from David and create your own musical lesson in the classroom. Teacher Deborah H. wrote that her students rewrote the words to “All About That Bass,” to talk about the different phases of the moon. Even if music is not your thing personally, you can still use the lessons of others. Look on YouTube for educational materials or teachers sharing their content. Here’s another teacher who uses hip hop in her classroom to inspire you.
3. Get to their level
“You have to come to their level and understand them.” –Leslie G.
This doesn’t mean that you talk down to students or have to let go of your lesson. It just means that it’s important to speak to them in a language they understand … and that they want to hear. Leslie says teachers have a role as an authority figure in the classroom, but she also believes that middle school teachers have to offer friendship to connect.
4. Hop on trends and cool tech tools
“I use fidget spinners to teach scientific method. They love it.” –Deborah H.
The whole “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” mantra can really ring true with middle school students. Whether it’s trends like fidget spinners or looking up the latest YouTube star to incorporate in your lesson, you will reach your students this way. You don’t even have to do much research. Just ask … you’re pretty much guaranteed to get answers.
5. Grab their attention
“You have to be able to grab their attention, and you have to know them in order to do this.” –Denise S.
Use the above tip about trends to reach your students in a whole new way. Once you know what your students find interesting, entertaining and funny, you can then figure out how to use those things to really grab their attention. Denise writes, “I do whatever I have to do keep it fresh and interesting. What makes them tick? Figure it out, and then use that to reach them.”
For groups, this might mean pop culture references or trends. But if you’re trying to reach an individual student, take notice of what they’re into to show another level of engagement.
6. Be genuine
“Love your students, and they will conquer the world.” –Marie J.
Kids of all ages know when an adult is being sincere. Teachers agree that you if you show your students you really and truly care, then they trust you. Then you can reach them in whole new ways. Janine N. writes, “Love, listen, validate their feelings, and stretch them to grow and believe in themselves and appreciate others.”
7. Join in the fun
“I love to get down on the floor with my students. I talk to them about travel or just life issues.” –Valerie O.
Valerie has been teaching eighth grade geography for more than 20 years, and she says when they are coloring or labeling maps, she always joins in. By getting involved and being hands-on, her students trust her and talk to her. Another teacher, Gerald J., says they use the Wii Dance game to interact with high school students with autism. “We hook it up to the smartboard, and the kids dance, Gerald says. “The kids, we teachers, general ed students, and admins stop to join in.”
You definitely develop a whole new relationship with students once you share candid, honest moments. Be brave and be that middle school teacher who goes out on a limb with your students. You’ll experience teaching in a whole new way.