Becky McComish

7th & 8th Grade Language Arts Teacher

Vail Unified School District

Tucson, AZ

Throughout the year we’ll be featuring stories from Hope Street Fellows in Arizona. Thank you for sharing your story, Becky!


Middle Schoolers used to scare me. They seemed like large ticking time bombs of hormones that could explode at any minute. They used words and pop culture references that I didn’t understand, and it seemed like they could whither a person with just one look. I looked at middle school teachers with awe and great reverence; wondering to all my primary buddies why any sane person would ever want to teach that particular group of students.

That thinking changed this school year when I agreed to move up to 7/8 ELA at my K-8 school here in Tucson, AZ. While I no longer receive cute notes and pictures drawn by little hands claiming that I am a “grate techer” (oh, the irony!), I have learned that middle schoolers are pretty awesome people. The one drawback of middle schoolers, in my opinion, is that they are not as easy to read, and making connection takes a little more effort. Here are 3 strategies that I have found successful in connecting with middle school students:

1. Get to know them

This may seem like common sense, but it’s so much more difficult when you only have them for 52 minutes a day. I find it imperative to get to know each of my students both personally and academically. I find that surveys, reading conferences, and class discussions help with this. If I don’t know my readers, how can I recommend books? If I don’t know my students personally, how can I tell when something is wrong? I have found that if my students know that I care enough about them to find out who they are, they are much more willing to take risks, work hard, and come to me with concerns.

2. Find ways to show you care

Middle school students need caring and supportive teachers, especially when they are going through so much turmoil on an emotional level. They crave independence but can’t always handle it. They still need a lot of direction and guidance from caring adults, even though they don’t always show it. I have found that stealing a few minutes here and there to check in with my students individually helps. My students respond well when I listen to their grievances instead of brushing them off. They react positively when I ask their opinion and then truly listen. When my middle schoolers want a “Stranger Things” themed holiday door instead of a regular “cute” one for the school contest, I go with it because I value their opinions and want them to know that I care.

3. Don’t be afraid to have fun

I think I was the most worried to teach middle school because I felt like I would have to give up the fun that comes with teaching little kids. What I found out was that middle school is fun on a whole different level. They are awesome at carrying on real conversations. They understand my jokes and sarcasm. Recently, I lost a bet with my students and had to pay up by letting them draw a beard and a mustache on my face with Sharpie. I gladly wore it all day; mostly because I wanted my students to see that they can trust that I will do what I say, but also because I want them to know that it’s okay to be a little silly in life. 

If drawing a beard on your face or binge-watching Stranger Things doesn’t appeal to you, find what works for you and your students. Be honest, be brave, and don’t be afraid to go out on a limb to make connections. Although middle schoolers can be unpredictable at times, they are also the group that can benefit the most from strong, caring teachers. The connections are definitely worth the effort.