Teachers – is there something missing in how you are connecting with your students – those kids in Years 5 to 9 who sometimes seem to be in a world of their own? Do they appear to be at times fidgety, uninspired, unsure and at other times loud, challenging and emotional?

The ‘middle years’ period of development (10-15 years) is quite a unique period of growth for young people. They are navigating their way through massive physical, psychological, cognitive, social and emotional change, as well as undergoing a huge structural change in their education as they move into secondary school.  As teachers of ‘middle schoolers’, we need to be aware of the needs of this group, and model our teaching practices accordingly.

We are dealing with young people who are no longer children, but not yet adults, and we are doing them a huge disservice if we fail to recognise that.

The world of today’s adolescent is vastly different to that of their teachers. Research indicates that some of the most important differences and pressures on today’s middle schoolers include:

  • puberty, sexual maturity and all of the associated physical, hormonal and emotional changes occurring much earlier
  • the changing nature of the ‘family network’
  • increasing use of rapidly developing technology
  • peer pressure, compounded by media and advertising targeting this adolescent market
  • jobs, products and services for which we are ‘educating’ them, but which are not yet invented!
  • the need to build personal and social resilience in the face of challenge and change

In the face of these pressures, how do we (many of us ‘baby boomer’ teachers!) tailor our teaching to not only support the needs of this group, but also inspire them, to learn?

The NSW Department of Education and Communities in its discussion paper on middle years schooling, as part of its Our Middle Years Learners – Engaged, Resilient, Successful education strategy, outline five principles essential for student engagement. These are Relationships, Relevance, Rigour, Resilience and Responsibility.

In real teaching terms, however, how can we apply these principles in the classroom to inspire the RACER in our students? Here are some ideas:

  • Relationships between teachers and students are central to effective classroom management and successful teaching and learning. Teachers who are firm, fair, consistent and have a genuine personal, yet professional, interest in their students are more likely to keep their students ‘switched on’ in class. A supportive classroom environment, along with high expectations of students and their work, are also key ingredients to successful teaching and learning.


  • Inspire confidence, resilience and a positive Attitude to learning by increasing the quantity and quality of student-teacher interactions. This goes a long way towards building a sense of achievement and progress. By creating opportunities for students to set goals and monitor their progress, we increase the chance of successful and engaged learning.


  • Provide Challenge in tasks and assessment practices. This is critical for middle years students. Teachers should have high expectations of themselves as well as high, yet realistic and clearly stated, expectations of their students.


  • Establish greater Equality in learning, through encouraging students to become self-regulating and independent learners. At the same time, we need to become partners in learning with our students by encouraging them to take ownership of, and make decisions about, their learning. Give them the opportunity to have some input!


  • Make learning Real! Middle Years learners are focused on relevance – if it doesn’t connect to the real world, they are likely to switch off very quickly. Research conducted in 2003 (Krause et al)  concluded that “the emotional reaction by a student to a task can determine within 30 seconds whether the student will be successful in the task or not” –  that’s scary stuff!  Tasks need to be challenging, authentic, creative and relevant to the student’s world beyond school – and it is the responsibility of teachers to ensure that the learning is scaffolded to ensure student success.

As teachers, we have a huge responsibility to capture the potential of this age group. Implementing strategies in the classroom that respond to the specific needs of these young adolescents will not only lead to increased academic success, but also….and just as importantly…… the blossoming of well-adjusted, confident, physically and mentally healthy young people with the potential to become RACERs and life-long learners.


ANGIE WILCOCK – Teacher, Presenter and Author of ‘The Transition Tightrope’

HIGH HOPES EDUCATIONAL SERVICES     www.highhopes.com.au