Three Middle School Teacher Hacks

If you teach middle school, your days are truly unique. You’re always on your toes because there’s no telling what’s going to happen next. They are fidgety, brutally honest creatures who sometimes lack self-control and like to show off in weird ways. Your students have needs that are vastly different from those in elementary or high school settings. 

These middle years are such an interesting time to observe students as they grow physically, academically, and socially. Some change overnight; others will seem like they haven’t changed at all from fall to spring. Class discussions range from silly and lighthearted to deep and vulnerable. You’ll have students who look like they’re 16 but act like they’re 11. You’ll have others who look like they’re 10-and act accordingly. They really do run the gamut, which can make your days interesting, fun, or downright frustrating.

Students at this age are also hyper-aware of how they fit into the microcosm of their school, and even into individual classes. They will test their own limits and yours. They will experiment with their looks, their behaviors, their hobbies and interests, and even their attitudes. As a teacher for any age group, part of your job is to help them find where they fit in academically, shining a light on their strengths and supporting their weaknesses.

With such a wide range of interesting and ever-changing students, what are some things you can do to make their academic lives more bearable?


Many students in middle school feel things quite deeply thanks to the onslaught of unfamiliar hormones. They may experience extreme highs and lows from one minute to the next, causing stress and tension. 


But even a little humor in your classroom can alleviate pressure: laughter reduces stress, stimulates the body (which makes students more alert), and can lower blood pressure, among other benefits


If you’re lucky enough to have been born with quick wit, you have seen these benefits first-hand. But if you don’t have a natural knack to bring on the laughter, don’t fear! There are other ways you can incorporate humor into your days:

  • Find a silly video that highlights otherwise dull content.
  • Open each class period with a daily joke (even corny dad jokes work!).
  • Add humor to your assessments with a funny content-related cartoon or a few silly, throwaway answer options or lighthearted bonus questions.


Middle school students love to be recognized tangibly. And why not? It speaks to the deep-rooted human response to positive reinforcement, as well as the desire to be seen and known.

I taught middle school for five years, and I would keep cheap stickers in my desk drawer. I handed them out generously: for things like making an A on a difficult test, improving a grade, an act of kindness towards another person, asking a good question in class, attending an optional study session. There are so many little ways to reward students, and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money. My students prided themselves in covering their binders with those stickers, watching their collection grow throughout the year.


It doesn’t have to be stickers, either. You can build your own reward system to fit the culture of your classroom as well as your own unique personality. 

And, you can get creative and find other ways to incorporate these tiny recognition moments. Check out this simple “Goodie Bag” idea from one brilliant teacher who uses it to increase student engagement.


At the risk of sounding redundant, middle schoolers are at a unique time period in their lives. They’re walking a bridge between the comfortable, nurturing elementary school environment and the higher level of freedom that comes with high school. It’s a shaky bridge at best.


To these kids, everything seems to be constantly shifting. Their friends, their relationships, their feelings and emotions, their bodies, their energy levels… You name it. And change is hard.


That’s why consistency in your classroom will mean so much to them. It’s important when teaching any grade level, but I would argue it’s exceedingly vital in the middle grades. Students need an anchor, a stronghold. A place to walk in feeling confident there will be few unpleasant surprises.


For you, this means consistency and fairness in the way students are treated in your classroom. Not just by you, but by others as well. Keep your rules and consequences simple, appropriate, and easy to understand. Follow up with grace, and let students know that they get to start with a clean slate each day. For more reading on consistency, check out this article.


What are YOUR favorite tips for working with this age group? Share your wisdom in the comments below!

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