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According to educators across the USA, teaching middle school involves far more than simply bridging the gap between elementary and high school.

In a time where students are learning to know themselves a little better – enjoying a little more new-found independence – it’s no surprise that sometimes teaching this age group can be more challenging than any other, especially when it comes to teenagers, who are all attitude and little learning.

But, despite the struggles that come with middle schoolers, it can be one of the most rewarding positions teachers can hold. After all, they need you now more than ever to help them with the following:

  • Learning how to function as mini-adults in the classroom
  • Understanding the boundaries that will be placed on them in high school
  • Developing the knowledge and study skills, they need to succeed later in life
  • Working on their social skills with each other and their authority figures

With so many responsibilities placed on our shoulders, it’s no wonder middle schoolers need us more than ever. But when it comes to connecting with those students, even the unruliest ones, we’ve got a few tips and tricks to help you through each day. Read on for five ways to connect with your middle-school students that truly matter:

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Speak on their level

It can be easy to be in a position of authority, but getting down on the same level as the kids you teach is the best way to connect with them. Whether it’s sitting with them on the floor or trying to empathize with their latest class drama or dilemma, getting on your students’ level can help each side understand the other a little bit better.

Provide much-needed structure

Understanding the need for structure is vital for students to truly succeed and bridge the gap from middle to high school. Whether it’s homework timetables, specific times for specific lessons, or easing your students into a little less free time in the classroom, it all helps provide that stability. It prepares them for the structure needed for further education and helps them have something substantial when everything else is a little vaguer.

Make learning fun

Learning can be fun. You want your students to want to learn, after all. Whether it’s integrating new technology – from slime to fidget spinners – into your lessons or simply joining your students when it comes to creating or building something, making school interactive, engaging, and fun is something you can provide your students to help them connect with you and to make them look forward to school instead of dreading it.

Be there when they need you most

For a middle schooler, the world can seem big and scary, especially with all the hormones starting to fly around and the greater responsibilities placed upon them. Supporting your students when they need it most, whether it’s a kind word, praise, or simply hearing them out, can mean all the difference. If your students feel they can come to you, they’re forming a positive relationship with you, precisely what you want when teaching middle school.

Take the pressure off a little

Not everything is black and white. While your students may be past the elementary stage, they still have plenty of energy, according to the Busy Teacher, and might not quite have a handle on all their emotions yet. Cutting them a little slack on a Friday afternoon, or enjoying some time outside that’s educational, helps take that pressure off a bit. From now on, their lives will be all about textbooks and studying – so why not let them enjoy education for a little bit longer?

How do you connect with your middle school students?