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It is my strong belief that middle school teachers need to be committed to the highest quality of education that is sensitive to the ever-changing needs of young adolescents. Middle school educators must demonstrate a love of their subject matter combined with strong pedagogical approaches. However, a teacher must go outside their own subject matter and incorporate other disciplines into their lesson plans as well. They must provide a learning environment that fosters a positive atmosphere, which should include such things as technological tools and resources, learning centers, and space for group activities. All of this requires strong organizational skills. Being a capable communicator shared with the ability to effectively model behaviors is a must for all teachers.
A middle school teacher must always use the Massachusetts Frameworks and the Common Core State Standards as the foundation in planning their curriculum but should interject their own style, flavor and humor. In addition, they must incorporate all types of objectives (psychomotor, cognitive and affective) into their lesson plans. These lessons should be filled with cooperative learning exercises and contain multicultural material. Psychologists Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky stressed the importance of learners being actively involved and they emphasized the benefits of shared collaboration in that students learn more together than would have been achieved alone. Following a social constructivist school of thought, learning should be an active process where the facilitator or instructor learns as much from the student as they do from them.
Further, my students have enjoyed participating in their own education. Although teachers must follow their district’s curriculum, students can be offered choices. For instance, my students may vote on which Greek play to choose to study and perform which gives them ownership in the success of the unit. Clearly, effective educators involve students whenever possible thus, empowering them in their own educational process.
Lastly and most importantly, teachers must self evaluate in order to grow and improve as educators. For instance, sending a questionnaire home for both parents and students to fill out after a unit in order to gain feedback is extremely helpful. Often I take notes in my planbook during the lesson so that I can tweak and fine tune it for the following year. Furthermore, at the end of every year I send home an anonymous survey to get input from my students and their parents in order to grow and improve as an educator. Indeed, both children and teachers must be lifelong learners.
As a teacher in the 21st century, technology must be an integral part of the classroom. Both students and teachers need to be comfortable using Smartboards, Infocus machines, presentation software and use a multimedia approach when planning lessons. Teachers must allow and encourage students to use the same when submitting their work. Educators must stay trained in the latest technologies and be open-minded to new ways in which to teach, such as, podcasts, webinars and virtual and remote classrooms. Teachers must prepare students to be career and college equipped in a globalized and technological world.
Ten to fourteen-year-olds are at the most unique age to teach. They are in the beginning of a journey from childhood to adulthood. Tremendous changes are occurring in the body of an adolescent; therefore they have very specific needs. For instance, middle-schoolers need to get up and move occasionally. Furthermore, adolescents view themselves and the world differently than adults or small children. Teachers must be cognizant of this and let these unique individuals have a variety of ways to express themselves during the learning process, such as, through song, poetry, art and journal writing. Also, increasing societal problems have made life much more difficult for many preteens. Teachers must be sensitive to the many issues facing kids today. They must be non-prejudicial and accept no casualties. It is imperative that teachers provide a structured, consistent atmosphere that allows for a safe and creative learning environment. For instance, upon meeting my students, we discuss the rules and guidelines for our classroom. There is a delicate balance that a teacher must find between being firm and caring. My rules are designed to create an atmosphere that is conducive to learning and most adolescents want that stability. However, that firmness must be peppered with humor and acceptance of mistakes. The most important element that I set right from the beginning is a team spirit. We have a classroom logo and I will allow the students to bring in their choices of music so we can adopt a class song. We spend the first few days doing team building exercises. These have proven to be successful as my classes spend the last day of school crying and lamenting how much we will all miss each other.
Students need a clear set of classroom procedures that go hand in hand with consequences as well as reward systems. The consequences are set forth the first few days of school and posted in the classroom and on the website. In addition, my students and their parents are required to sign a commitment letter so expectations are clear. In our classroom, tickets are handed out for many things such as, volunteering to read, offering an answer to a question, good deeds, etc. Raffle prizes are drawn on an intermittent basis. However, self-reinforcement must be as effective as external reinforcement in influencing behavior. Albert Bandura opines “that adolescents who set reasonable goal levels of performance and reach that level feel proud and satisfied internally and become decreasingly dependent on parents, teachers and bosses to give them rewards.” Teachers must help students recognize the value of intrinsic positive reinforcement by modeling it themselves.
Adolescents are curious, humorous, caring, excitable and emotional. However, adolescents are not all of those things all of the time which requires that above all, a middle school teacher be flexible and patient.
Mrs. LeClair's Site
Reading, ELA, and Social Studies, Room 222
Benjamin A. Friedman Middle School
Taunton Public Schools