During the elementary school years most children are in a self-contained classroom — one room where they are taught most of their subjects. They have only one teacher, so she can regulate how much homework and how many tests students have on a given day.
Sometime between fifth and seventh grade this changes. Children move up to a middle school or junior high. This brings about new challenges: Students may have between four and eight different teachers each day. Each teacher may have over a 150 different students daily and may not know any of them well. Yor child may be in classes with over a 100 different students each day rather than the same 25-30 students all day, so he may not get to know his classmates well. With classes taught in different rooms, your child might have around five minutes to navigate the building and find the next classroom, including heading to his locker and making sure he has the right books for each class. He may receive long homework assignments from multiple teachers on the same night or have three or four tests the same day. He goes from being one of the older students in the building to being the youngest, which may lead to teasing.
In some middle schools and junior highs, one team of around four teachers works with a group of the same 100 or so students. These teachers meet together to discuss their students and plan units. The teachers agree on policies, discipline, and communicating with parents.
“Working in core groups lets us observe the children. We can rearrange classes to split up problem students,” says teacher Casey Prann, who has experience in both team and non-team settings. “We often work together to create themes and correlate the math, history, English, and science material to center on that theme. It helps the students tie it all together.”
Making the transition to middle school
The transition from the elementary school to middle school or junior high can cause anxiety in some children. You can help your child by doing the following:
- Visit the school. Take your child to visit his new school at the end of his last year of elementary school. Locate classrooms, restrooms and the cafeteria. Sometimes schools will have open houses for students only — if that’s the case, then let your child go alone. She doesn’t want to be the one kid with her mom tagging along.
- Meet the teachers. As soon as class lists are posted, arrange for you and your child to meet the teachers. Don’t wait for open house, which is often a month after school begins. Go the week before school starts, or as soon as teachers are back from summer vacation. Discuss any special needs your child might have.
- Be aware of rules and routines. Know the procedures for ordering hot lunch, entering the school in the morning and anything else of importance.
- Stay in touch. Review the work your child brings home. Make notes of anything that concerns you or indicates a problem and call the teacher after school hours about it. Arrange a conference if necessary.
- Be involved. According to educational research, students whose parents are involved in the school do better. Involvement may mean volunteering to tutor children in the classroom, talking about your career, or helping with a fund raiser.
The transition to middle school or junior high marks a growth point for your child. Help her face it with confidence and enthusiasm.
Katrina Cassel, M.Ed., lives with her husband, five of their children, and an assortment of pets in the Florida panhandle.