Transitioning in and out of middle school is a process that millions of students have done since the inception of the middle school concept. Middle school is a transitional time for all students, and students make decisions during these "in-between" years that can impact their futures.
Transitioning to high school from middle school can be stressful for students. I followed one student's journey as she made the transition to middle school and to high school. This student, Hannah, is from a middle-class family of educators who support her unconditionally in her educational journey. But I found that even with support at home and at school, transitions can be scary and cause some stress.
Hannah is not alone in these concerns.
I interviewed other students and the same concerns surfaced with all of them. Their insights and thoughts will help any educator as they plan for successful transitions from middle school to high school. Here were their concerns and some ideas for how school staff can help.
One concern that was voiced was making friends at the new school. This is a concern for middle school girls in particular. There was also a concern about making good choices in friends that will be at the new school. Based on students' thoughts, teachers and administrators can:
- Offer counseling for students who are having trouble making friends.
- Encourage students to work in cooperative groups and get to know their partners.
- Encourage students to get involved in clubs, music options such as chorus and band, and team sports.
- Offer guidance on making good choices when choosing friends and what the consequences are for making poor choices
Workload becomes a pressing concern when transitioning out of middle school. There is a common fear that students will not be able to handle the increased workload while trying to expand their horizons into clubs and team sports. It is important to make sure that schoolwork comes first before clubs or sports. In order to take on these extra opportunities, students need to have a solid plan for completing their schoolwork.
And knowing that class requirements will be more stringent and that there's a chance you might not be able to "keep up" is an undeniable concern. The fear of not "measuring up" or failing is a common fear among transitioning students. Keep the following advice in mind:
- Help students, early in the school year, make a plan for keeping track of daily homework assignments and long-term projects. Encourage the use of an agenda or planner.
- Advise students' parents or guardians to help their child identify a regular place to complete homework and projects in a timely manner.
- Encourage parents or guardians to frequently check with their child about their workload and make sure there is ample time to complete homework and projects. If extracurricular endeavors are interfering, families may need to come up with a plan to assist their child or curtail the extracurricular event until the student has a handle on the workload.
- Check with students who seem to be struggling to keep up with the workload, and figure out a solution to the problem. Involve parents quickly and come up with a plan.
Quality/Personality of Teachers
Many students expressed apprehension about the teachers at the next level. Students always hear stories about teachers, and this concern seems valid to a transitioning student. "Will my teachers like me?" "Will my teacher be strict?" "Will my teacher answer my questions?" Here are some strategies that might help with this uneasiness:
- Plan an Open House where students can become acquainted with teachers and their expectations.
- Encourage students to ask clarifying questions in class if an assignment is difficult to understand or the due dates are not clear.
- Encourage parents and guardians to discuss school with their child and take any concerns seriously. Make it clear that you are available to meet with parents if there seems to be an issue a student cannot resolve on their own.
When a student takes high school level classes in middle school such as Math I or Earth Science, they will be placed in more advanced classes when they get to high school. This means that they will be in classes with upperclassmen and this can become a legitimate concern. Since the maturity level and experiences are different, freshmen feel a concern about not fitting in. Teachers and administrators should keep this concern in mind when scheduling classes.
- When the class has a vast difference in ages, teachers should be sensitive to the needs of the younger students and make sure they feel comfortable in the class.
- Consider giving the younger students an older mentor in the class who can offer advice or answer questions.
- Check in with the freshmen once a week and take the temperature of the classroom climate. Just being aware can head off any problems that might arise.
As middle school educators, we helping to create our future leaders. Nurturing and supporting students during these challenging times are a must. The support that teachers and administrators provide students will help all students reach their highest potential. Keeping in mind the concerns that students face as they move through school can allow us to validate those concerns and prepare effective strategies to mold these students into a generation we can be proud of.
James Davis, Ed.D., is an associate professor and program coordinator at High Point University (NC), where he works with the elementary, middle grades, and educational leadership departments. He has been named both teacher of the year and principal of the year.
Published May 2017.