If I could go back to the summer before moving to first grade, what would I have wanted to tell myself? How would I prepare myself for a large jump from older students to primary students?
For the first 11 years, I taught middle school, enriched reading and technology.
When I moved to first grade, it was a huge change in “altitude and attitude” I always said.
Here are, what I believe, are some of the major differences between middle school students and primary students.
Preteens (“Tweens”) are feeling out their young adult-ness. They want you to see them and treat them like adults, and sometimes you can use that as your advantage when talking to them. They are all about fairness too. As long as you have set clear rules, expectations and consequences, then that is half the battle.
Primary students see you as their parent and at times will call you “mom” or “dad”. Lol! Consistency is key here. Even though they are capable to learn your expectations and consequences, your loveable rascals may be super impulsive or the hyper-sensitive sweeties may well up with tears at the drop of a hat.
Most middle school students like to have their personal space invaded only by their friends and don’t want you in their conversations. A few of them may like to hang out with you and talk…they’re the ones that typically love adult conversation. For the most part, it’s best to just eavesdrop on their convos and not butt-in unless you feel the need to do it.
Some middle school students may hang around their teachers, but primary students like to hang on to their teachers! Littles are typically more touchy and may hug you…a lot! Usually the closer you sit to primary students, they’ll love you even more. If you don’t like all the touching then you can try to quickly redirect them toward something else. I, myself, never minded the hugs.
Middle school want to sit as far away from their teacher as possible. They know that they can hide behind their peers when they don’t want to be called on or to pass notes or even daydream.
Primary students want to sit close to you. They want you front and center when they’ve drawn their best picture, when they’ve lost a tooth, and when it’s carpet time so that they can be first to sit right in front of you for read-alouds.
Testing and Academics
Middle school students are very familiar with testing and lots of it! Trying to engage them to stay motivated to do well can be quite a challenge, as it’s usually closer to the bottom of the student’s agenda and closer to the top of ours. Not only are they to know how to read well (sight words, sounding out unknown words, 100+ academic vocabulary), but also comprehend and use the information to answer high-level questions while close reading.
Primary students are just beginning the testing career. At this time in education, formative and summative is important to show a year’s growth. Primary students are more likely to be teacher-pleasers, and when they are tested at the beginning of the year on things they’ve yet to learn you may get criers. It’s gutting to see this knowing that they are already feeling the pressure of high-stakes testing on their horizons. This is also the time when learning sight words, sounding out unknown words and learning critical vocabulary is important and can be built upon year after year so that they can focus more on comprehension later on.
Parents of middle school students are aware that by now their tweens need to be learning independence, but some of them still like communication from school to home to let them know what is going on in the classroom. Unless there is a problem, though, you may not see some of the parents.
As for primary students, you will see most if not all of the parents at open house, parent teacher conferences and on party days. Many of them will pick up their children or walk them to and from school. There are many opportunities to catch the parents to speak to them. They also will email, send in notes or call you more often to want to talk to you. Their children can’t relay messages as well as the middle school students can.
Identification for Special Services
By middle school, students who have qualified are receiving special services and may have for a few years before you have them in your classroom. You will be able to talk to parents and teachers, plus there should be quite a bit in their permanent folders to read up on to determine how best to help them in your classroom.
Primary students, typically, haven’t been identified and it is very challenging for us teachers. We aren’t sure how best to help these students, when to refer them and if there is available help from aides or intervention specialists. We may be on our own in a classroom with students that read at a pre-kindergarten level to up to a 7th grade level. For this reason alone, I feel like I work longer hours and stay much later working at school than I used to at the middle school level.
Now you know some of the differences between teaching primary students to middle school students. I’m one of the rare teachers who’ve lived this exchange. I am glad I did experience the differences though. I can appreciate both ends of the spectrum and love knowing what the progression looks like from the perspective of student, parent and teacher.
If you are going through one of these transitions or you know someone who will be, make sure to read this post again before school and remind yourself that you need to give yourself time to make the transition fully from one extreme to the other. I think you too will appreciate the knowledge you’ll gain from working with and teaching opposite ends of the teaching spectrum.
If you have any comments or questions, I’d love to hear from you! Leave them at the bottom of this post to share with others going through this same transition.