August 2017

Middle School Classroom Management

By Jill Geltner
The challenges of managing the middle school classroom also offer great opportunities. During early adolescence, students are growing more physically than at any other stage since the first year of life. With these physical changes come feelings of acute self-consciousness, inadequacy and isolation. As young adolescents are feeling so very different, they also deeply crave connection to peers. This combination is ideal for core curriculum delivery.

Be prepared: You will be eaten alive by 13-year-olds if you haven’t prepared by previewing the video, anticipating the questions or scoping out the classroom ahead of time.

Be enthusiastic: Middle school students will match your level of enthusiasm and intensity. Be consistently eager to visit the classroom and excited about the topic at hand. Although they may play it cool, they will find you when they need individual assistance and notice that you enjoy working with them.

Have a few simple rules: When possible, pull from already-established teacher or school rules. Overall, create two or three simple rules you can repeat at the beginning of each lesson. When a student breaks a rule, apologize for not being clear and refer to the rules again. My favorites are: If you’re looking at me I’ll know you’re listening. One person talks at a time. (I also demonstrate how to raise your hand if they’d like to contribute.) And, when one person is talking others are listening.

Be fair: Fairness is extremely important to this age group. Prepare to be challenged if you are not being fair. One person must talk at a time, and no one should be allowed to sleep during the lesson. Enforce those simple rules, and if you can’t, modify them.

Get the names down: This tip could be the most important. Nothing takes the place of knowing someone’s name – and how to pronounce it correctly. From the first day, I take photos, use folded notecards with names on their desks, anything to learn everyone’s name – it assures each student in a large group that you care.

Use your counselor skills: The large group is the ideal time for students to connect with others. By using active listening skills of summarizing, reflecting and open-ended questioning, you can maximize contributions and show commonalities. During classroom discussions, allow students to see themselves in reference to others experiencing the same things. Ask open-ended questions to the group about what another might be experiencing. Allow them to assist each other in dissolving their sense of isolation and creating cohesion.

Use the talker: Get your outspoken student involved in the discussion and keep him on task. Remind him how much you appreciate his input and see it as an opportunity for him to shine. Note him as a possible small-group candidate. The best part about classroom guidance is the opportunity to see students in this setting. Your ability to work with his teachers and parents will be magnified.

Remove the audience: For middle school sensitivity, reprimanding or addressing a sensitive topic in front of peers can be unduly embarrassing. When possible, avoid a conflict or confrontation you could lose. Don’t fall to the temptation to use your power to hurt a student’s ego. A discussion one-on-one will be better than in front of the group. Remember, each student is doing the best they can with the skills they have at the time.

Balance: Be genuine and find your balance of structure and enthusiasm. Middle-schoolers seem particularly good at sniffing out adults who are disingenuous. Keep moving and learning about your students. The connection will evolve and when the balance is right, there is no experience more rewarding. Get into that classroom, and begin the balancing routine.

Jill Geltner is a school counselor at Howard Bishop Middle School in Gainesville, Fla. She can be reached at