When I first started teaching middle school, I somehow thought I’d have all new students. From all new families, that is, even though the middle school is just across the highway from the high school. As if the younger kids would come from a different pool than the older ones I’d known and loved for so long, and they’d be kind of shy and cute and, well, unknown to me. Then I learned that they were from the same families I already knew. Sometimes they were the kids of students I’d had in my high school classes.
When I taught high school I never gave much thought to the middle school. It was kind of like the Freshmen somehow emerged as high school students and no one else had ever really known them. I think we all saw them that way. It didn’t seem to ever occur to us to want to work closely with the middle school to exchange any kind of helpful information. Those middle school people were kind of disregarded, I think. I mean, we had them for four years in high school so we really got to know them, right? Nothing like two years of middle school. And once they were on our campus, those middle school people didn’t need to know anything more about them.
Now that I teach middle school, I feel on the receiving end of that disregard. It isn’t that my feelings are hurt (okay, maybe a little bit), it’s that we are missing a chance for some important conversations. Now, I will say that occasionally a teacher I know will contact me at the beginning of 9th grade and ask for input about their students. I love it when they do that. That acknowledgement is a validation of the two intense years we’ve spent with them, and it shows a genuine desire to know them as soon as possible.
It never occurred to me when I taught high school just how much those kids were cared for, and how well they were understood by the middle school teachers. We see them through two rough years of development. They come in as little kids, and go out as teenagers. It all happens so fast. We do everything we can to prepare them for high school, and then send them off in their blue promotion gowns with little bits of our hearts. We wish them well and want to hear how they are doing, whether the news is good or not.
When we learn what our students do in high school, it helps us learn to work better with the students we currently have. Often I get a feeling about the direction a student is headed, and I try to change that outcome to one that is more positive. It is helpful to me to hear what happened next, plus I still care about them. I really do wish the high school staff could see and value us at the middle school a little more. I bet we could all really help our students prepare for their lives if the communication between the two levels was more clear and eager. More respectful. The kids need it.