What was the reaction you received the last time you told someone that you taught middle school?
Most people will look at you with a mixture of awe and horror…then shake their heads and say, “I could never do that.”
There is no doubt about it. Middle school is a tough place. Middle schoolers are known for their acerbic tongues, rolling eyes, and zero tolerance for anything different. So is it impossible to teach them manners?
Knowing that a middle school teacher will never shy away from a challenge…here are five tips for infusing manners into your middle school environment.
We call it Cotillion…perhaps you call it something else at your school – but it’s a series of dance classes that teach basic dance steps. The lovely thing about Cotillion is that it also teaches niceties such as how to ask someone to dance, how to walk someone to her car, and how to accept a dance.
You can also have a formal etiquette class. Middle school students, although they may act tough, can certainly see why it’s important to know how to introduce people and use proper table manners.
Never underestimate the impact of role playing. Middle school students love it!
As a warm up activity to monthly book talks, we practiced how a respectful audience looks. What do YOU want to see when you look out at your classmates? What do you NOT want to see? Students practiced both behaviors (with much laughing and hamming it up). This made it easier to establish what I expected from the class when they were listening to their peers.
I love RonClark. (You have read his books, haven’t you?) He establishes “essentials” in his classroom. While you don’t need to adopt all of his essentials, you can adopt one. By creating an essential manner, your students will know what is and isn’t acceptable behavior.
One of my fellow teachers would say, “Respect the speaker.” That was all it took to settle her class and remind them that someone was addressing the class. Of course, she had spent time discussing and practicing what that looked like, but having a key phrase can call back prior lessons on manners.
As our students are more and more involved in online communities and communication, we have to address this.
A way to foray into the world of “netiquette” is to host a class blog. Student writing is open to a global audience. Students can see the advantages of proper online behavior (as well as spelling and grammar).
Set the Tone for Your Class
Be sure you are modeling your own manners...
- What is your school or classroom policy on cell phones? Do you follow it as well?
- Do you want your students to look you in the eye when they talk to you? Do you focus on them when they have a question or want to tell you something?
- Do you greet your students at the door each morning and expect a response in return. Do you greet your incoming students at the door and stand by the door as they leave?
- Do you show respect to your fellow teachers and not refer to them by their first name in front of students?
Choose some important manners that you can model for your students. They will learn more from your example than any list or rule book.
And...don't be afraid of insisting on "please" and "thank you."
Everyone can practice good manners...even those who excel at eye rolling!