Moving On to Middle School
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
Sixth or seventh grade is a time of transition for many students. In addition to facing many personal changes, they are also likely changing schools. Just as their child may feel dazed and confused upon entering middle school, so too their parents may feel like strangers in a strange land.
The move from elementary to middle school presents many challenges. Many students are leaving a small, familiar school with one primary teacher and entering a large, impersonal school with as many as seven teachers. They may be leaving a school where they spend almost all day in one class with the same classmates and entering a school where they move from class to class with a different mix of students in almost every class. They are leaving a school where they are the oldest students and entering a school where they are the youngest. These changes can be jolting for many students.
Students in the middle grades are changing more than their schools. They are undergoing dramatic personal changes as well. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that early adolescents are changing more than at any point in their lives other than infancy. These changes can be unsettling for the youngsters — and for their parents.
They are changing physically. Around the age of ten or eleven, hormones begin to be released, stimulating significant bodily changes. They are changing socially. They are beginning to move away from their parents and towards their peers. Being accepted by their peers may dominate their thinking as they strive to look, talk, and act like their classmates. They are also changing emotionally. Their quest for independence may be accompanied by rebelliousness. They may challenge your values and reject your ideas. At the same time, their self-confidence may be shaky and their moods may shift with lightning speed.
Middle school students are truly in the middle, caught between their yearning for the independence of older adolescents and their desire to retain the privileges of childhood. One middle school principal tells the story of a seventh grader who, while getting a haircut, gave the barber detailed instructions about how to style his hair. After the haircut was completed, he paused in front of the mirror admiringly and then turned to the barber and asked “May I have my lollipop?”
In their preoccupation with social concerns, academic achievement may take a back seat to peer acceptance. Indeed, many students who excelled academically in elementary school are ambivalent about excelling in middle school for fear of being labeled a “nerd.” Others have difficulty adjusting to the academic expectations of middle school. They may find the work more demanding and the teachers less nurturing. The work habits that allowed them to get by in elementary school may simply not cut it in middle school.
Almost all students entering middle school have some trepidations. Some worry that they won’t be able to find their way around school. Others worry that they will be picked on by older students. And still others worry about almost everything. What’s behind most of these worries is the fear of not fitting in. Fortunately, most students in middle school eventually find their way — literally and otherwise. They gradually master the layout of the school, memorize their schedule, learn to negotiate the academic maze, and find ways to sidestep the social minefields.