The First Day of Middle School

Hey guys! It's Erin from I'm Lovin' Lit and I'm so happy to be a part of this wonderful new blog! Today I'm going to talk about my feelings about the first day of middle school. Whether you're a new teacher, new to middle school, or just pressing the reset button for the year, I hope you find some new and different things to think about because, well, I'm somewhat opinionated! :)

What to Do (and What Not to Do) on the First Day of Middle School 

Let's start with what NOT to do, shall we?

1. Spend the entire 50 minute period discussing your rules, expectations, and telling kids about what they'll be doing this year. *YAWN* 

2. Do that "elementary thang" and have your class (community of learners) collaboratively come up with a list of rules and expectations and discuss the meaning and need for rules, blah blah blah. DON'T. You really don't need to do that. Third grade? SURE! Middle school? NOT. 

3. Spend over half of your time doing some really complicated and/or awkward ICE BREAKER type activity where the students are forced to completely leave their comfort zone by speaking in front of the entire class or even making a fool of themselves in front of a hand full of not-familiar classmates. Seriously. Have you NOT been a middle schooler before?!

4. Ask students GENERICALLY to a) write a paragraph about or b) tell the class (EVEN WORSE) about "what they did" or "where they went" on summer vacation. RESIST THE TEMPTATION. DON'T DO IT.

Now that you're not doing those things above (you're not still thinking about it, are you?) here are *MY* suggestions on what to do the first day of school. These numbers will coordinate with and complement the numbers above.

1. Spend a reasonable portion (definitely half) of the class time introducing yourself (briefly, you can tell more later) and laying out the expectations that are most important to you. Keep it simple for the first day. The students need to know especially these things: a) How to enter and leave my room. (Wait at the door/line up in hall until invited in; leave only after *I* dismiss, not the bell.)b) What to do when you walk in the door every day. (bell ringer, DOL, sponge, daily, whatever you like to call it - you should have SOMETHING but keep it SIMPLE and SHORT)c) What supplies you'll need to buy (if a list was not provided) or which supplies should be labeled for your class and any instructions on using supplies or storing any of them in locker for later use.As far as I am concerned, most of the other stuff can wait. These kids are being bombarded today by 7 or 8 different teachers. Take it easy. Give them the most important information ONLY.

2.TELL THEM your expectations. They don't need to formulate them with you. These kids know why there are rules, and they don't need to come up with 8 different "community" rules for each class. Can that stuff and just tell the kids what you want/expect from them. Consequences/rewards/etc. You know, just the most important stuff for now.

3. Do something ACADEMIC. Teach a little bitty mini lesson. Give students a PREVIEW of how you teach. Isn't that better than just telling them about it? Just a little tiny lesson. Ten minute quickie. This is important because it SETS THE TONE for the rest of the year. You know I'm all about hidden messages, right? Doing something academic on that first day carries the message "We are here to learn about literature (insert your subject) and we are not wasting any time getting there!" And save those group activities for another day. These middle schoolers are overly-concerned about whether or not their hair is still "just right" or how their shirt looks from the back or WHATEVER. Give them a break and save the "in front of the class" stuff for later. Those ice breakers are totally lame. Yes, even that one you found on Pinterest. If you can SOMEHOW mesh that icebreaker with something academic, I *might* approve. But be careful. Pointless ice breakers are.. well.. pointless. 

4. OK - Let's review. Now that you've outlined your most important procedures and expectations and done something ACADEMIC, you really, really want to do something summer related? OK. Fine. You can - just be careful how you word this. Some of your students toured Europe over the summer. Some of your students spent the entire summer walking two miles a day in the heat to participate in the free lunch summer program. Some of your students didn't leave the neighborhood. Some of your students went to Disney World AND Schlitterbahn. Get my drift? Let's not outline these differences on the first day. If you want to do something about SUMMER, word it in a better way. Here are some suggestions:

  • Who did you enjoy spending time with the most over the summer? or 
  • What did you do on the FIRST day of summer (or the LAST day) - {more likely to NOT be one of the things mentioned above} or 
  • If you had one extra week of summer, what would be the perfect way to spend it?

All of these are, of course, my own opinions, and we all know what opinions are like.. everyone has one, right? I honestly hope I've at least given you some things to consider before you start your year, whether it's your first or your tenth. Some of my opinions might not mesh with your style, and that's okay. Some of yours might not mesh with mine. 

Thanks for reading, and get to planning that PERFECT first day! 

Building Positive Relationships

Each year as the school year draws to a close we are forced to say goodbye to those faces we have grown so attached to.  Those last few days of school are tough because, as teachers, we commit to individuals.  We commit to relationships.   We open the school year by establishing a positive rapport with our students, and we spend the year nurturing a relationship built on honesty, trust, and mutual respect. Without a positive relationship no real learning can take place, and the roots of these positive relationships begin on the first days of school.   But, the middle school student is different in every way from their elementary and high school counterparts.  Therefore, what works for an elementary student will earn scoffs from that middle school child.   What enamors a high-schooler may strike fear into those in the middle grades.  So, how do you go about building relationships with that unique middle school student?

Teaching middle school means you have to be a little awkward.  You have to be willing to laugh at yourself, make jokes that nobody else finds funny, and be a goof at the drop of a hat.  That description embodies everything I do in the classroom.  While maintaining very high expectations for student achievement, I like to laugh, make up songs “on the fly,” and make the corny jokes that get my students to laugh.  Caught somewhere in-between wanting the security of elementary school and the independence of high school, these students strive to find themselves and who they are more than anything else.  This persona is not a “show;” it is who I am and I have found it helps students feel comfortable, confident (after all, if I am goofy and awkward how they can be any worse?), and develop a sense of belonging.

I start the year with learning about my students.  I seek out their interests and hobbies and express an interest.  I find a place to store this information (mentally) and draw upon it routinely to show that I care — because I do — and to show students that they “belong.”   On the first day of school I allow students the opportunity to anonymously ask me question about my life.  They write down their question on a slip of paper and they can leave it nameless if they choose.  They can ask anything they want to know about me!  This brings me down to earth, shows students that I too am a real person, gives students a chance to learn about my interests and hobbies, and helps the students see me as approachable and easy to talk to.  While some fear this will draw many unwarranted (or embarrassing) questions, over my nine years of doing this activity I have not had one question I did not feel comfortable answering (TIP:  If you did receive a question that “crossed the line” you can easily cover it up by playing off the question as one you already answered and just skip it!).

As someone who taught in a really "tough" school, and being a math teacher on top of that, I always felt like I had the odds stacked against me. I didn't grow up the way my students did. I grew up in a solid home, surrounded by love in a nurturing environment. I was involved in activities, went on family vacations and didn't know what it felt like to be alone, scared or in danger. During my first two years in the classroom, I had a really hard time building relationships with my students. I didn't understand them, and honestly, I was afraid of some of them. I shut myself down and decided to play the "bad cop" role. I thought I would demand their respect, rather than earn it. Needless to say, that didn't work.

During my third year in the Middle School classroom, I took a different approach. I looked past my students circumstances and looked into their hearts. I had a student who was a behavior problem. She was angry and down right nasty. I found out she had lost her mother years ago and was still lashing out over that. I lost my own mom when I was 20 to breast cancer and while I didn't share that with my students, I shared it with her. Suddenly, she relaxed in my classroom. She knew I understood. She knew I was angry too. She knew I was there for her. I had another student who had just been released from jail for armed robbery. Turns out, he LOVED math. I didn't focus on what he had done or who he was outside of my classroom. I tugged at his strengths in my room and while he may have had issues in other classes, he never did in mine. I let my students know I cared about them, while still having rules and expectations. My students were not my friend, but they didn't "fear" me either. They respected me and my rules and I respected what they were bringing to my classroom each day... the good and the bad.

I may be 36, but all of my students would back me up when I say that I certainly don't act like it.  I know when to put on my "Serious Teaching Hat" and when to relax, be silly, and laugh.  It is a delicate balance and there are times when I will literally jump from being serious, to silly, and right back to serious within a matter of seconds - and my students quickly learn to hang on and expect the wild ride.

To me, the strongest, best relationships are those built around common interests.  While I would never condone being "friends" with a middle school student, I definitely believe that they need to know that you are still relevant, no matter what your age is.  I am not suggesting that you start wearing your jeans sagging with your cap backwards, but it's important for your students to know that you aren't completely out of touch with their world.  And in middle school, their world is EVERYTHING (at least in their heads)!
I do my best to infuse current music trends into my lessons, utilize technology that they are interested in, watch the movies they are talking about, read the books they are reading.  It's all about connecting with them on their level.  To take it another step, consider attending extra-curricular activities that they are involved in.  You would not believe the lasting impact it can have with a student when they look out into the bleachers, audience, or crowd and see YOU - their teacher?!?!  It always freaks them out at first - almost a state of shock- but they will never forget it.  And I promise you, that student will work harder for you and be more invested in you and your class because you made the extra effort to be invested in their life and what is important to them.  I've dragged my two daughters to countless middle school athletic events, choir concerts, band concerts, plays, performances, and Little League baseball games.  And the next class day, I give those students a quick shout-out in class.  It's the simple things that mean the most.

The best part about making these connections is not only the strong relationships that you are building with your students, but the strong content that your students will retain because it means something to them and is relevant in their world.       

Hands on Learning in the Middle Grades

Middle School is the divide between High School and Elementary School. It is the bridge from childhood to adulthood. Students grow and our expectations of what they can handle in the classroom grow along with them. Many teachers feel as though students should learn to listen to lectures, take notes while the teacher is talking and be able to function in a more "grown up student" environment.

When I started teaching 8th grade math, I had that philosophy. My students were getting ready to go into high school, so why not treat them that way? Rarely did I incorporate "fun" in my classroom. I followed along with the scope and sequence perfectly and used on the resources provided for me by the district. My students that year only worked from their textbook, note-taking guide or chapter resource book. I think this HUGE mistake on my part may have been one reason my first year as a middle school teacher was absolutely horrible less than stellar.
It's true that students in middle school are no longer "babies". They're also not quite adults either. When I started incorporating hands on activities in my classroom, I saw a HUGE change in student engagement, success and behavior. My assumption that 8th graders would think coloring was stupid was very, very wrong. The first time I gave my students a coloring worksheet as classwork, they looked at me like I was crazy. "But Mrs. Perro, we are in 8th grade. We don't color anymore." My reply, "Oh really? You do today!" Even the students who acted like my coloring worksheets were silly sat there and made sure their work was nothing short of a masterpiece. Did I use up a little bit of instructional time by having them color? Yep, I sure did. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Students in middle school have SO much pressure on them. They're pressured by their bodies, that are changing every single day. They're pressured by their peers to be "cool." They're pressured by their teachers to grow up. They're pressured by coaches and parents to keep grades up and participate in extra curricular activities. Giving them a 5 minute break to color isn't going to make the difference between whether or not they pass or fail that class or that standardized test.

My coloring pages eventually progressed to classroom competition games, puzzles and stations. Yep, stations in 8th grade. Insane right? Nope! My students LOVED being able to get up and move around the classroom. I started working with the theory that, if I was bored making an answer key, my students would be bored doing the work in class. Of course, there's a time and a place for seat work that doesn't involve coloring or scissors. There is a time for formal assessment, independent learning and quiet time. But, there is also a time for fun. I challenge you this school year, if you don't already, to incorporate more hands on activities in your classroom. Whether you teach science, history, Spanish, music, math, or any of the other classes offered in the middle grades, there are plenty of activities you can find or create to keep your students engaged.

Other In The Middle bloggers incorporate Hands on Learning in their classrooms below:

In middle school, if Social Studies isn't hands-on, interactive, and engaging, the kids simply aren't interested.  No matter what the content is, my number one goal is to get students excited and genuinely interested about what they are learning.  In my classroom, students are producers, detectives, and debaters.  We complete video projects and murder mystery investigations, while conducting simulations and class debates.  Students explain ideas and concepts through weekly "town meetings," write historical essays with document-based evidence, and compile weekly learning goal logs where they demonstrate on-going understandings.  To go along with my teaching style, this will be the fifth year my students will be participating in the National History Day program. All of this places students at the center of instruction to create an active, hands-on learning experience.   I am not a lecture teacher.  I am not a textbook teacher.  I am not a PowerPoint teacher.  Not that there is anything "wrong" with these methods, but I simply believe there are better, more interactive ways to get students involved in their learning.  After all, what truly is more exciting: listening to a teacher speak for 45 minutes about what happened on England's first attempt to setup a colony in North America or placing students in the role of CSI investigators as they investigate what happened to the "Lost Colony?  

Science naturally lends itself to hands-on learning, but nothing is more hands-on and current in the science education world than Interactive Notebooks.  While some have been notebooking for years, others are just beginning to try it out in their classrooms.  For those novices just starting out, you may want to consider the Interactive Science Notebook as a different way to take notes, organize information, and provide your students with a one-stop location for all important reference materials. With this in mind, transitioning to interactive notebooks won't be much of a stretch for you.  We all know that middle schoolers are the WORST at keeping up with everything, but your odds of having organized students are drastically increased, simply by having all of the information glued into one location, instead of spread between binders, backpacks, and lockers.  

If you have started using notebooks already, but are looking to do more with them in the current school year, I would suggest checking out these resources:


Science Interactive Notebook Resources:

ELA Interactive Notebook Resources:

Math Interactive Notebook Resources:

Social Studies Interactive Notebook Resources:

If you are the expert at notebooking, I would still encourage you to check out what's new and current out there.  After many years of notebooking, I thought I'd probably seen it all and done it all, but I am continually amazed at the resources being created everyday and the new ideas popping up.  Just two years ago I was shown FlipOuts and I was amazed at the possibilities.  Check out my blog post about FlipOuts.  

Bottom line - continue to learn, grow, and share your knowledge and ideas with other teachers.  Don't be afraid to try something new in your classroom, especially the things that are working well in millions of other classrooms.  Get your students actively learning with Interactive Notebooks!    

Set Your Expectations High From Day 1

Where do I sit?  Will I like this teacher?  Do I have any friends in this class?  Is this class going to be hard?  Will I have a lot of homework?  These are all questions swimming around in the brain of a middle school student on the first day of school and it is your job to answer these questions and put the insecurities to rest.

Your students need to know a little bit about you and have a chance to bond with their classmates in a fun, relaxed environment because those personal connections and relationships are what will keep the positive momentum and mutual respect going throughout the year.  But, in my opinion, one of the best things you can do during the first week of school is establish very clear, high expectations and be consistent with them.  Students need to know what to expect when they enter your room every day.

During my first year of teaching, a veteran teacher told me "Don't let them see you smile until Christmas."  Not the best advice I've ever received, but I think I understood her intentions (or at least I morphed her advice into an interpretation that worked better for my spunky personality).  Being consistent at the beginning of the school year isn't always fun (for you or your students).  But I promise, if you stick to your high expectations and don't let anything slide in the beginning of the year, those middle school students will know that you are the kind of teacher that is consistent and fair in how you run your classroom and they will grow to appreciate it as the year continues.  Besides... deep down, every child wants to be challenged and needs to grow, although you will rarely catch a middle school student utter those words.  A lot of students come from homes that are lacking in structure, clear expectations, and consistency, so it may be a struggle in the beginning, but you will see the rewards by the end of the year.

The expectations you set as a teacher will greatly influence the success of your students in both your classroom and in their lives.  So why not expect more and raise the bar higher?  Spend some time thinking about some procedures that will occur most often in your classroom (entering the classroom, working in groups or with partners, turning in homework, turning in classwork, turning in tests/quizzes, turning in late work, conducting lab investigations, eating/drinking in class, supplies that are available to students, etc...)  Think of everything you possibly can and make sure you have a plan for each procedure.  These expectations and procedures need to be in place before school starts because they begin on day 1.

Suggested Day 1:
  • Greet your students at the door.  Introduce yourself, make sure they are in the right place, and give them an assigned seat.  (For some seating tips and free seat labels, check out this FREEBIE.)  During the first week or so of school I seat my students alphabetically.  It helps me learn names more quickly and makes passing out/collecting all of the paperwork easier.  If I notice any "bad combinations," I can make an easy move, but for the most part I like to keep everything alphabetical.  I think this seating method also sets the tone that the expectation is that you, the teacher, will regulate everything in YOUR classroom.  I have found that if I give middle school students the power, even on something so small, so early in the year, they end up running with it... and eventually thinking they have more control than they actually do.
  • Have something for your students to get started on while you continue to greet students at the door.  This could be some basic paperwork (Get to Know You, Facebook profile, Interest Questionnaire, etc...)  or some sort of quick challenge activity like THIS or THIS.  The biggest thing is you don't want a lot of down time.  Down time with middle school students = chaos in the classroom = stress on the teacher = no bueno.
  • Introduce yourself to the entire class and tell them a little about your life.  Show pictures, tell a quick story (they LOVE to hear stories about your family, children, and life in general).
  • On the first day, briefly let them know about your class, but don't make it the main focal point.  That will come in the next few days.  For now, just go over the big picture (how they will be graded, supplies needed, some basic policies, etc..)  Don't spend more than 5 minutes on it, if you can.  Send home a parent letter or other form of communication that will introduce you to the family and go over your basic classroom guide, like THIS brochure I have my students take home, get signed, return, and glue into their Interactive Notebook.  
    • NOTE:  Later in the first week (day 2 or 3) I send home a Parent Letter.  But to help mine stand out from the other 4-6 parent letters that have gone home in every other class, I created a tri-fold brochure.  Check it out HERE.
  • Lastly, end with some sort of Get To Know You Whole Class Activity or Team Building Exercise.  I like to do a Back-to-School BINGO activity because it is a chance for students to mingle, get to know each other and myself at the same time.  It isn't too serious and I actually go out of my way to make it fun and goofy.
Suggested Day 2:
  • Continue to greet your students at the door on a daily basis.  This is a great time to kindly remind them of your expectations when they enter your room.  I like to use this a time to remind my students to read the Daily Agenda Board, start a warm-up, cut out a foldable, turn in their homework, etc... (depending on the day and what I have scheduled).  Bottom line, always have something for them to start doing upon entering your room.  They need to know that the expectation is that they enter your room and begin to work; not come in, hang out and socialize.  Time is precious and every minute needs to count.  And because these are middle schoolers, you may find yourself "reminding" them (kindly and not so kindly) of your expectations up until December, but you will be the teacher relaxing at the end of the year because your students respect you and know the expectation, while your neighboring teacher may be pulling out his/her hair at the end of the year because their students are out of control by that point.    
  • Now, it's time to start getting into the "meat" of it.  How should you start presenting these expectations and procedures to your students?  Over the years I have tried several methods, but my favorite has been the classroom scavenger hunt.  I found it to be most effective because it allows students to walk around the room, finding task cards and checking out the classroom in general.  They work with a partner, so there is a chance to discuss or have some assistance if needed.  And the best part, you ask?  The teacher doesn't do all of the talking!  For several years in a row, I had NO voice by the end of the 3rd or 4th day of school.  I was talking WAY too much and I needed to make a big change.  To check out my Expectations and Procedures Scavenger Hunt, click HERE or to read my blog post about it, click HERE.  

I can't wait to continue sharing ideas on setting high expectations in your classroom.  Just remember:  This is YOUR classroom and your students need to leave you at the end of the year knowing more content, being more confident, and appreciating the growth and successes that they have achieved because of you and your consistently high standards.  No one said teaching was easy...especially in the middle grades!

Communication is Key

If you want your year to run smoothly, you need to begin with great communication!  You want your students and their parents and guardians to understand what to expect while they are in your classroom. You should make the following things very clear: expectations for behavior, as well as rewards and consequences, homework policies, class routines, and directions/due dates for any consistent assignments. Luckily, there are many ways you can communicate with your students’ parents and guardians.

Communication Method #1-Classroom Website
If you don’t already have a classroom website, what are you waiting for!?! Most students and their parents have access to a computer, tablet, or phone that can connect to the Internet, and they love being on those devices. Your classroom website will be just a quick click away!

I know that it may take some time in the beginning to set things up, but TRUST ME, it will save you TONS of time in the future. I personally recommend using Weebly for Education to create your classroom website. I love Weebly for Education because it is so simple to set up. All of the options (images, videos, text, links, etc.) are able to be dragged and dropped wherever you want them to go.

The main page of my website includes a short bio. about myself, as well as the supply list and district calendar.  I post my classroom expectations, weekly agenda (homework assignments), downloadable documents, general language arts information (including due dates of consistent assignments), images of students working, and other homeroom information on separate pages of my website. Including this information on my website lessens the amount of confusion students’ parents may have about classroom happenings.

Weebly for Education has both a free and paid version. I use the free version because it includes everything I need. If you want password protected pages, etc., you might want to pay for the upgraded membership. Here is a link to their tutorial page if you are interested in getting started!

Communication Method #2-Open House {Newsletter/Magnet with QR Code}
I really enjoy Open House every year! It’s a great way to communicate my classroom expectations. I love being able to take the time to go over the different sections of my classroom webpage with my students’ parents.  That way, they know how to get to and navigate my page. However, I also give them a paper version in the form of a newsletter. On the back of my newsletter, students and parents sign the page to say they have read the information provided and that they are aware of my classroom expectations. I also have them quickly check off which type of technology is available to them at home, so I know whether or not my students have access to the Internet, etc. 

Another thing I have done since my first year of teaching is to give my students’ parents a magnet with my contact information on it. That way, if they have any questions or concerns during the year, they are easily able to contact me. I include my school phone #, my school email address, the address to my classroom website, and the address to my school. This year, I decided to add a QR code that students’ parents can scan to access my website faster.

Communication Method #3-Remind
Remind is a safe way to send text or email alerts to your students’ parents. Or, depending on the age of your students, to your students as well.  You do not use your personal phone number, and your contacts are unable to message you back through Remind.

Watch the tutorial below to see how to setup your own account and use Remind.

Communication Method #4-Positive Phone Calls Home
The last communication method that I wanted to add is probably something you already do, but I wanted to reiterate how impactful it can be: positive phone calls home. I think that sometimes we forget how much a positive phone call home may mean to our students or their families. I’ve had students come into school the day after I’ve made a call home with the biggest smiles on their faces telling me that they heard what I had told their parents.

It is so important that we take the time to notice and reinforce positive behavior.  It’s not something you have to do every day, or even every week. You could pick one day during the month to make your calls, whatever works for you. To quote the Nike brand, Just Do It! J

Middle Grade Maven 

Why, Hello there!

Hi there! So nice of you to join us on this super crazy ride through the middle grades!


This blog was born because we all noticed the same thing. There are so many FABULOUS collaborative blogs for the lower grades, there wasn't a whole lot out there in the virtual world for teachers of the middle grades. We want this blog to be a place for you to get inspired and have a laugh or two. Chances are, at some point in your teaching career, you have been asked WHY on earth you teach middle school. We are sure you've heard things such as "Aren't they misbehaved?"... "All those hormones - sheesh!"... "You must be crazy"... "I'd much rather work with the little ones."

Middle school teachers have something special. They have the gift of being able to get through to children who are stuck in that awkward place between childhood and adulthood. We're here for you! All of you who are "In The Middle!"

Our goal is to make this blog relevant to all middle school teachers, regardless of where {or what} you teach, what the demographics of your school are, or how long you've been teaching. We hope you'll find each post inspiring, useful and maybe a little bit funny!

We are all teachers and former teachers who have survived or are currently surviving teaching middle school students.