Middle School often can be a difficult period for many children who more than ever before must face challenges to conform, to avoid bullying, to gain popularity and to develop confidence – all while transitioning to young adulthood. Kari Kampakis has written a wonderful blog post that can be great guide for teachers and a valuable resource for students undergoing this exciting and confusing time. Kari’s article can be found at 10 Truths Middle Schoolers Should Know | Kari Kampakis. Below the photo, I write about my limited years teaching middle school students in NYC and give some observations on some striking differences I saw between a fifth grade class and two sixth grade classes at the same school one year.
Three of my 13 years teaching in NYC were at Middle Schools – two on the Lower East Side/Chinatown and one in Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. At one school – with about 98 % Chinese American students – I had a fifth grade for social studies and two sixth grade classes for the same subject. The fifth grade students were voracious learners and, often, I had to halt questions during fairly high level conversations because I had to get on with the lesson. The students were so serious and so self-disciplined that, whenever I addressed the class, you could usually hear a pin drop after one or two students would hush the class with comments like, “SSHHH, the teacher is speaking.” The sixth grade students – although great kids who did their work well – were very chatty, playful, a little on the noisy side and not so easy to control in terms of classroom management. Often I’d have to wait for them to even notice that I was trying to move the lesson forward. And I had the feeling that these sixth graders were just as serious as the fifth graders just one year before. I mentioned this to some colleagues who all basically said something like, “yeah, sixth grade, the hormones are flying, they’re hanging out with their friends and doing what their friends do and they think they’re king of the mountain now (at that time the school only went to the sixth grade).” I had taught fifth grade before that but only as a substitute but I had taught seventh and eighth grades as an English teacher. But even today, I remember being very surprised at the distinction I had observed between those two grades and – although the difference might be attributed to me getting lucky with that particularly wonderful fifth grade class – I just got the lasting impression that the fifth graders were more mature in some ways than both of the sixth grade classes that I had then. Anyway here is the link to Kari’s engaging article: