youth development & education

Transitioning to Middle School

Puberty. Menstruation. Breasts. Sweat. Acne. Lack of coordination. Incessant hunger. Expensive sneakers. Pop music. Text messages. Swearing. Fist fighting. Exhausted teachers. School buses. Fear. Boredom. Failing grades.

I have a student who did really well in fifth grade and by half way through sixth, is now failing in both English class and math class. I have another student who falls on the floor, whines, and yells on a daily basis. I have two other students who want to go home early every time they have menstrual cramps. I have three other students who want to open the window even when it’s cold outside because they don’t know what to make of how much they’ve recently begun to sweat around their armpits.

And as I write this, I’m sitting across from a student who started out as one of my best but hasn’t spoken to me all afternoon and refuses to even look at the unsolved math problems on the desk.

My job is to try to ease the transition to middle school, but I’m just one person amidst this whole scene of stress. Last year, when my job was to teach about puberty and friendships and communication, I think I helped to ease some of the confusion. However, I still was not the guidance counselor, and I still was not the English teacher. Now, I’m an afterschool team leader, technically concerned with the whole child and technically only needing to focus on a dozen children — yet even now I know they need much more attention than I can give them.

They need more attention, more explanations, more validations, and much more tutoring. (Come tutor my students!)

Back to the point: I’ve been thinking a lot recently about school restructuring. What would middle school look like if we took what we know about puberty, adolescent emotional development, and peer dynamics and we structured a school with insight into these processes at its center, placing priority on meeting these social-emotional needs? What would middle school look like?

Published by Mimi Arbeit

applied developmental scientist, antifascist community organizer, sexuality educator

One thought on “Transitioning to Middle School”

  1. Anonymous says:

    It should start at least two hours later!
    School would still be school tho… so I dunno how much better we could make it. But more resources and more teachers are always good– but that's not about making all middle school better, that's making all these underserved middle schools better.

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