Introducing the Milestones Blog

By: Amber Chandler

When you tell people that you are a middle school teacher, do they give you an apologetic smile, or say "God bless you," or "Better you than me?" I've found that many people miss the beauty of the middle school world because they don't know the most defining characteristic of this age: students are reaching milestones almost weekly! It is actually hard to believe that the little guy who timidly walks in the door as a sixth grader will, in a matter of years, grow physically and emotionally in ways that are profound, and ostensibly leave a confident and capable teenager.

Physically, we know that even a year can make those first days of school pictures unrecognizable from the end of year slideshows. The inevitable voice cracks, awkward style choices, and the braces everywhere can take its toll on the kiddos and parents. I'm the mom of an eighth grader, and the crisis over the fact that she can't find the "right" black leggings, as opposed to the other five pair of identical black leggings, is exhausting for all of us. I haven't experienced the boy-in-the-middle yet, but I will next year when my son Oliver comes up to the middle. As educators, we can protect these students from each other, and even more importantly, from themselves. We have the power to model positive self-image, strong senses of self, and encourage them along the way.

Emotionally, these kiddos are struggling, but they are also so genuine, and real, raw, and courageous, that I am in awe of them. I love the conversations that we have while dissecting social class in The Outsiders or while they are stressing about taking their first mid-term. When you gain the trust of a middle schooler, there is no comparison to the loyalty they will give you. Recently, when my mother-in-law passed away, my middle school students were more at ease sharing their own grief with me as a means to commiserate and be empathetic to me. I'm so proud of all they go through and still they show up! Not to mention, statistics tell us that 1 in 5 kiddos have mental health issues. Guess who is often the first to do the sideline diagnosis that can lead to getting treatment? We are.

So, as I was trying to come up with a title and theme, I realized that "milestone" captures this age very well. This is going to be a column that explores those milestones, celebrating all that is magical about the middle, as well as tackling some of the issues that come along with the territory. Though I've taught middle school for more than 15 years, I'm going to need some help along the way, so I'm going to take to social media to hear from all of you! Be on the lookout for questions on Twitter from @MsAmberChandler, using the hashtag #AMLE. I'll be reaching out to some of the middle school thought leaders to help balance out our conversation. Please feel free to email me at, send me a message on Twitter, or leave a comment here for topic ideas, your thoughts on questions, and above all your expertise.

The first question I'd like to pose is this: In your grade level, what is a milestone that you have the privilege to observe and share in?

Published March 2019.

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11 comments on article "Introducing the Milestones Blog"

Teaching 6th graders I love getting to see them come back around to my room as 7th graders to say how they wish they were in my class again.

3/6/2019 2:11 PM

In 7th grade I see students playing on our school sports teams for the first time. They learn to balance the time commitments of practices and games along with their academics and out of school activities.

3/6/2019 8:41 PM

Middle school is about so many new experiences: I see so many students who ride buses and use lockers for the first time. Students get to try out for sports and represent their schools but also risk getting cut. Students have their first crushes, go on first dates and have their first heart breaks.

3/6/2019 9:15 PM

In my state the driving age is 14, so many 8th graders earn their driver's license near the end of their middle school years.

3/7/2019 9:03 AM

After watching middle schoolers learn to use lockers for over 17 years now, I think I would be less amused by now. But each year, watching these young adolescents learn to use lockers (and experience the "thrill" of having their own locker) is always fun. They take a lot of time to learn to use the combination, put in locker shelves and mirrors, and decorate their locker, and the locker becomes a hub of socialization for them. (Somehow, I think lockers become "less cool" in high school.)

3/7/2019 9:41 AM

I’m always thinking about how to empower young people to make the world a better place. We can do that gently with young children, but middle school — especially toward 8th grade is when their awareness of systemic causes of injustice start to form. I love helping them find issues they are passionate about and finding their voice to make a difference!

3/7/2019 6:06 PM

8th graders seem 'stuck' between being a kid and being an adult. I have the privilege of helping them navigate these rocky waters. I love to see them blossom into young women and young men. It is my favorite age to teach!

3/8/2019 9:05 AM

I have the privilege of watching preservice teachers realize the magic of middle school. Very often someone who said, ‘No way,’ works with students in a local middle school’s AVID program and says, ‘Wow, this is the age group I want to work with!’

3/10/2019 1:22 PM

I work in a span school, grades 6-12. It's always a treat to see the kids go from tiny, unsure people, to confident leaders in our school!

3/15/2019 12:03 AM

I am in school to be a middle school teacher and I loved watching my 6th grade students grow this semester. I couldn't imagine being there for all 3 years of their time.

5/5/2019 12:23 AM

Middle school is hard. Students are going through so many physical, cognitive, social and emotional changes that sometimes schoolwork is the last thing they are thinking about. I love how you referred to all of the milestones that middle schoolers can reach in the few years they are with us in the middle school. I really hope I can take the time to slow down and watch their development, encourage them every step of the way, and remind them how awesome they are after every milestone. Thank you for this!

4/29/2020 8:42 PM

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