The Emotional Life of Middle School Students

22 Dec

Teacher Stories

Submitted by Teacher Man on December 22, 2011

The more that I progress as a classroom teacher, the better I am at making new and important levels of observation about my students.  Having to spend less time focused on new teacher issues like pacing of lessons and classroom management, I am able to spend more time getting to know my students as individuals. One of the most common observations I have made about my 7th and 8th graders this year is that many of them experience a bad combination of overwhelming emotions with few healthy options to access or express their feelings.

It seems as though my students experience waves of new and powerful emotions everyday. A very important part of being twelve or thirteen is experiencing the many different life changes that begin to occur at this age. An equally important part of the middle  years is learning how to access and express these feelings and changes in a healthy and productive way.

For many of my students, the normal adolescent emotions they experience are magnified by factors that are out of their control. Issues related to poverty such as hunger, unsafe neighborhoods, poor housing, and lack of or poor access to health care create an entirely different and more difficult set of emotions in my students.

The second and perhaps more important part of being a young teenager is learning how to positively process and express as many of these feelings as possible. Seeing as how the majority of a middle school student’s life is spent in school, it would make sense that school becomes a place to help young teenage students channel their feelings and emotions. However, this is not the case for my middle school students.

School should be a safe and welcoming place where all students can feel comfortable accessing and expressing their feelings. It is essential, especially for adolescent age students to have a wide variety of activities such as music, play writing, art, gaming, sport, etc… to help them to express their feelings. Schools should be filled with caring adults ready to listen and help students examine and filter their emotions. School should be a place where students learn to listen to and help each other with their issues.

In far too many schools, mine included, the above is no longer the reality. Instead of providing rich instructional environments that foster and help develop the emotional experiences of students, we have substituted a “no excuses”, “test success at all costs” mentality.  Scripted programs, the elimination of the arts and physical fitness, rigid curriculums, and authoritarian control techniques have eliminated the crucial opportunities for students to access let alone express the wide variety of emotions they are feeling.

It cannot be overstated that an essential part of school is social and emotional development. By taking away or severely limiting young teenager’s abilities to channel and filter their emotions, we are alienating these students. We are not providing them with the tools they need to be successful as an adult. It is crucial that we as educators, parents, administrators, and students find a way to reverse the direction our schools are moving. What good is a high test score to a student who has little idea how to access or express their emotions in a healthy way? The focus on vice grip control, mind numbing test prep is causing serious and lasting damage to our students and is not preparing them to live a full and productive life.




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