By Cyle Ercolino, Bianca Estrada, Lauren Gouldey, Gage Honneger, Hayes Horstmeyer, Alexa Hudson, Bradley Irwin, Annabeth Johnson, Jakobe Jones, Jack Robitaille, Ndiaw Samb, Jo Smeby, Abby Snogren, Sean Sullivan, and Matt Moulton
This blog post has lots of authors. The first fourteen authors are many different things. They are storytellers, artists, musicians, scientists, servers, dancers, travelers, and so much more. I (Matt, assistant professor and teacher educator) am lucky enough to learn with and from them on a twice-a-week basis this semester. They are all future teachers and this was a semester we spent in a Colorado middle school. I asked them what they learned. Here is their collective response.
Thoughts on the middle school students
Jakobe, an icon, barista, art teacher in training, shared “Kids like teachers who allow them to be themselves.” Murmurs of agreement went around the room. Hayes, preparing to enter math classrooms while also working sound booths and constructing tetrahedrons out of paper, agreed and shared that connections to student identities bear fruit in classrooms. Whether you comment on their beanie, the book they’re reading, the band on their shirt, each little conversation builds positive relationships and helps nurture students during the second most physical and mental developmental period in their lives.
Annabeth, a becoming social studies teacher with at least two jobs on top of being a student, relayed “You learn so much about kids in a middle school that can translate across the board to different grade levels. I have learned more from the kids…My cooperating teacher is amazing…but I am learning way more from the kids.”
Runner, ray of sunshine, and future social studies educator, Abby, said, “Positive affirmations go a long way. Middle school students will respond well to positive feedback. This is a big time when students are deciding their in/out of school identities. If we can be positive and affirming teachers, they will probably be more likely to acknowledge that they are good at school.”
Lauren, dancer and future science educator, followed up with “The more specific the affirmation or comment the more meaningful. I had one teacher who apologized for making a kid feel less than.” That intentionality speaks volumes to not just the student who is being apologized to, but to all others in the room.
Speaking on identity and developmental changes
Alexa, who donned the school mascot costume for a pep rally (and who happens to be in school to be a music educator), said “Between fourth and fifth grade, they are changing so much. Then middle school happens and it is wild. Wild.”
“In high school we thought we were evolving and changing. In reality, we were just the same people [as in middle school], just taller,” said Jo, self proclaimed not a normal horse girl and future agricultural educator.
What role does content play?
Cyle, a wrestler-skateboarding-veteran-social studies educator, shared some of the conversations he had with seventh graders. One revolved around the content and who teaches it. One student told him “Mr. H’s history class? I hate history but Mr H treats us like real people.”
Following up, Sean, Louisvillian musician and music educator, said “High school teachers love content. Elementary school teachers love kids. Middle school teachers have to love and do both.”
“But a lot of the strategies and practices will work across grade levels,” shared Bianca, Family and Consumer Sciences educator, skater, entrepreneur, and rock collector. This broad reach of intentional practices was on display in all of the observations made over the semester. From Bianca’s FACS class and Cyle’s ELA class to the plethora of Music classes and more. For example, Samb, Senegalese French educator, had loads of opportunities to practice how strategies and intentional practices can cross content and grade level boundaries. French was not offered in our partner school. Samb and Gage (Social Studies, yoga, good vibes) spent a semester working with students in a PE class. The class gave them the opportunity to witness a different way for students to express their creativity. Gage also added that it was an opportunity to learn how to politely apologize for throwing a dodgeball a little too hard.
Thoughts on teaching
Jack, music educator and designer of personal tattoos, recognized a difference between personal learning style and the students’ learning preferences. Jack shared “The way I learn is different from how I have witnessed some students learn. I recognize my need to write on the board to help visual learners.” Other future teachers shared their different teaching personas, masks, hats, and how they are different depending on the audience or classroom.
Bradley, skilled at teaching music, playing piano, and asking the question “Who washed Washington’s white woolen underwear when Washington’s washer woman went west?” described the idea of teaching style/persona/mask/hat as something that organically develops depending on the day. He mentioned that so much is in flux in the choir classroom that he has to quite literally play it by ear.
Preparing Middle Level Teachers
As the instructor of the course, I learned a lot. All throughout the semester, returned to the newly revised AMLE (2022) Professional Preparation and Credentialing standards. For a thorough executive summary of the Essential Program Components of impactful middle level teacher prep programs, please visit: AMLE Professional Prep. Full disclosure, the program I teach in is not a Middle Level specific program. I can’t help but bend my class towards middle level practices, though.
I witnessed lots of AMLE program components evidenced in these teacher candidates.
These teacher candidates are content experts. It takes a content expert and adept pop culture references to grab middle schooler’s attention with an Olivia Rodrigo as a main character in an explanation of the revolutionary war example.
These teacher candidates are advocates and allies. Their default is to listen empathetically, champion students’ identities, learn about needs and find ways to meet them.
These teacher candidates critically reflect on their experiences and want to be better, not just for themselves but for their future students.
These teacher candidates learned lessons that they will hopefully take with them as they enter classrooms. I know that I learned so much from them that will influence my future classes.