The transition from middle school to high school brings many changes and challenges for all students. The educational and personal changes that occur during this period of time for students in special education need to be specifically supported and guided. Teachers and counselors play vital roles in supporting this transition for students in special education through the implementation of transition programs and by creating and maintaining meaningful relationships across grades.
Implementation of Transition Programs
A successful transition program provides educational and life experiences for students to learn, discuss, and utilize skills across areas of their lives. Teachers and counselors should work together to implement lessons and transitional activities that promote career, financial, and organizational skills such as understanding and maintaining a daily schedule, prioritizing tasks, purchasing items at a store, and speaking to an audience. Transition programs, when created and implemented by a group of committed educators, can be valuable and essential for students.
Students who receive special education services are already provided specific and direct interventions that support a successful school experience. To ease and create a positive transition to the high school, teachers who have students in special education can provide interventions that target the skills needed to be successful during this time of transition.
By providing students with real life experiences, teachers can specifically target and direct career, financial, and organizational skills to their students. There are many online programs that support this skill development through interactive tasks and activities. Teachers can also provide support during their classes by working with students to construct their high school schedules and by communicating school events, clubs, and sports that students can participate in once they start their freshman year.
Most importantly, teachers can support the transition from middle school by providing students with real-life experiences that help them get acclimated to the academic, social, and structural demands of high school.
Meaningful Teacher-Student Relationships across Grades
One of the most challenging but rewarding aspects of education for any middle school teacher is the positive and supportive relationships that are made with their students. Whether the teacher teaches multiple classes or works with a small group of students on a daily basis, the relationships teachers build with students have a direct effect on the successful transition from middle school to high school.
Middle school educators, specifically those who are special education teachers, play an essential role in creating, maintaining, and providing opportunities for developing meaningful relationships with their students. Throughout the school year (especially in eighth grade) it becomes increasingly important for special education teachers to understand their student’s post-secondary education, career, and independent living goals and outcomes. Many school districts develop this through the process of transitional planning. Understanding the long-term aspirations of students can help teachers structure and provide specific supports during this period of transition.
One major way a teacher can support this time of transition is by helping students create emotional and social ties to the new school building they will attend as a freshman. Creating and maintaining meaningful relationships across grades can help students in special education feel a sense of belonging. This can go a long way in supporting the personal and social changes that happen during the transition from middle school to high school.
Introducing students to the teachers and counselors they will see and interact with during the new school year can help kick-start the relationship-building process. When students have supportive adults they can turn to—whether in middle school or high school—there is an increase in confidence and performance.
The transition from middle school to high school is considered one of the most crucial periods of time for any student during their educational experience. It is even more so for students who are in special education. By focusing on implementing transition programs and creating meaningful teacher-student relationships, schools and teachers can continue to support and positively affect their students’ transition to a new educational environment.
Nickolas D. Wanamaker is an eighth grade learning support teacher in the South Western School District, Hanover, Pennsylvania.
Published February 2020.