The first assignment that I give to my preservice Literacy teachers is to write a memoir paper about a significant middle school memory. Beyond the title (and a brief FYI that a memoir differs from a personal narrative in that emotions are revealed through the telling in memoir, whereas a personal narrative may simply tell/report), I do not require that the memory focus on academics–just middle school.
I like to start out the semester stirring up the memory pot with virtual trips back into middle school classrooms, buildings, and social life. It’s a tough age to teach and to live–remembering what it was like is a great place for teachers to start.
Seventeen of my 21 years of classroom (not university) teaching were spent in middle school classrooms. From those years, I discovered the following.
1–Need to feel successful
2–Need to have their curiosity stimulated
3–Need clear learning paths to self-expression (and, I also learned that the medium of expression is as important to a middle schooler as what s/he has to say)
4–Need to have strong peer relationships
Anything else that I can and have thought of seems to fit within these four needs. If these four needs were foundational to teacher decision-making, perhaps the middle school years would be less stressful, more fulfilling for students who struggle with self-identity, future goal-setting, and invasion of hormones!
A desired/necessary/hoped-for quality of any teacher, and certainly a middle school teacher, is empathy. The significant memory assignment has empathy as its main goal. To have and show empathy is something of which we should be intentional; to accept as a teacher–that your way may not be the only highway. Each student is unique in their lived experiences. Kids need to know this about their peers, as well. Modeling empathy is as important as modeling all things academic; in middle school, perhaps more important.