Top 5 Qualities of Successful Middle Level Teachers

(I just couldn't narrow it down to one.)  Let's face it...we are dealing with a unique group of kids, so it only makes sense that we teach them in a unique way.  Attention spans are short, hormones are all over the place, and a lot of our students are super-obsessed with how others perceive them.  I think it's like a fresh breath of air for our students to see us teach without boundaries.  We can't be afraid to look foolish, we must strive to make every lesson memorable, and above all we must captivate our audience.  Be weird, be quirky!  Even if you get these looks...
DO IT ANYWAY!  Because I can almost guarantee you... YOU will be "the main topic" of all lunch conversations.  And in this case, it's better to be talked about than not to be mentioned at all.

I love when my afternoon classes come running in the door excited about what we are doing in class.  They've heard their friends talking about it, so they can't wait to see what the fuss is all about.  Think about it - when you go to an in-service or listen to a speaker, what qualities do they have that really "hook you"?  For me, an entertaining speaker captivates my attention.  They don't care what they may look like, they are simply there to make you listen to every word they say and you leave having had a memorable experience.  

When you're teaching students who are figuring out who they are, you have to be able to bend to meet their needs. Needs that could change at any given moment. Students in the middle grades are often ridiculously hormonal and let's face it... a bit illogical sometimes. Their moods can pull some serious Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde moves and you need to know how to work with that. Be prepared to roll with the punches in terms of the questions they'll ask, the attitudes they'll display and the jokes they'll make. Don't act like everything they say/do is ridiculous (even though that's how you'll feel) because it'll come off as you putting them down. Laugh at their ridiculous jokes, rearrange your lesson to allow for one on one work time with a student who may be having a bad day, and have a response for even the most irrational question.

You also need to be flexible when it comes to parents. By the middle grades, parents have a pretty good idea of how their child will behave in class. Chance are, if you have to call home, it won't be the first time that parent has had a phone call from a teacher before. That's the good news. The bad news is that many parents have their own opinions... very strong opinions... on how their child learns/thinks/acts best. They'll expect you to handle their child in the way they tell you to. Be sensitive to parents. Teaching is tough, but parenting is harder. You may need to bend a little to accommodate certain parents. You can either do that, or spend all year having a parent out to get you.

Successful teachers know how to engage their students in classroom activities.  They are able to do so by making lessons relevant and keeping things "fresh."

Successful teachers engage students by making lessons that can relate to their lives.  Teachers need to have background information and build a rapport with their students to be able to relate what students are learning to their lives.  It's also great when teachers can connect learning to real world experiences.  Help your students understand how what they are learning will translate into the real world.  Invite parents to come into your classroom to discuss how they use the skills your students are learning in their careers.

Another way to engage your students is through the use of technology in your classroom. Our students are immersed in technology in their free time.  They love using it, so what better way to engage them than to incorporate it into your instructional practices!  There are so many free technology resources to use to spice up your lesson!  It's super important to keep things "fresh" by being creative.  I always think to myself, if I was a student, would I enjoy this activity?  I know that every lesson we teach can't have all the bells and whistles, but there are ways to keeps things interesting through differentiation.  For example, give your students choices in the products they create to demonstrate their learning!

Bottom line - if you expect less, you will get less.  Set the bar high for your students and continue to encourage them and assure them that you know they can meet the goals you have set for them, as well as the goals they have for themselves.  Be available to help those that are struggling.  And while every student is different, it is important for the students to see that you are consistently expecting the best from each of your students.

When they fall short, academically or behaviorally, you must be fair and consistent.  Don't let anything slide...ever.  What appears to be a small behavior issue, will become a monstrous behavior problem in a short time if left alone or ignored.

In my first few years of teaching, I was more concerned with the students liking me and thinking that I knew everything in not only my content area, but every content area.  Ha!  I soon came to realize that they would like me in an organic way if I simply was consistent in my expectations for them and was a real person.  My students know that I don't know it all - I am a lifelong learner, who is constantly on the quest to know more.  It's okay to mess up, but in real life, there is a consequence for every choice.  And the middle school years are a difficult time, when many students struggle with that idea.  It's your job to help them through those times and help them learn from their mistakes.  

To be successful at the middle school level, teachers must be balanced in every sense of the word.  Any given day in a middle school environment presents such a great variety of challenges that I dare not even try to list them all.  In order to tackle this, day in and day out, a middle school teacher must be balanced, both in what they offer their students but also in how they manage their lives.

A successful teacher must be engaging to draw in students, yet nurturing to maintain a relationship.  A successful teacher must be clever and creative, all the while targeting the specific needs of their students.
A successful teacher has to balance tackling high-pressure state standards while handling the emotional needs of each student.
A successful teacher must be able to bring humor to the classroom and must be able to laugh at themselves in the process.
A successful teacher must be able to relate to (and connect with) a 12 year old child one moment, then a 60 year old colleague the next.
A successful teacher must be a good listener, problem-solver, and a mentor to each student, both with current students and past ones as they return seeking advice.
A successful middle school teacher would be wise to recognize that you can’t “fake-it” with middle schoolers — they are highly-observant, quick to understand, and will learn very fast if you are truly “in it for them.”
While managing all of these skills in a school and classroom setting, a successful middle school teacher must also find balance in their own life.  One must set aside time to enjoy the company of family and friends.  If you don’t have a hobby, now is the time to get one!  Everybody needs to time to unwind, relax, and rest. While this may be difficult to do as you see the stack of ungraded papers on your desk, keep in mind that in the long-run your sanity needs the break!

Everyone has heard of a multi-talented person being calling a “Jack of all trades.” This phrase embodies the successful middle school teacher more than anything else.  However, while a teacher must be multi-talented, the need to balance these talents is key.  Too much of anything is a bad thing, just like a teacher only having one of these skills -- you truly must have everything to be successful at teaching in a middle school.


  1. As a middle school science teacher with 28 years of middle school science experience, you gals "nailed it"

  2. Loved the article. Many good tips. It comes with experience....Then u start caring about your students more than your own kids. Lol