Teaching Middle School is Never Easy, But It Helps to Know How to Help Students Learn
When I decided to become a teacher, I knew I wanted to help students succeed, but I also knew that I needed help to become effective. I wasn’t an education major, and I hadn’t participated in a teacher preparation program. I had only vague notions about how to be a great teacher.
I decided to work for a charter school that was known for being very supportive of its teachers and that provided weekly coaching and professional development. I was lucky that I immediately had the support of a coach and a principal who helped me become an effective teacher.
Looking back, I was very reliant on my coach and principal for help. I realize now that I had no idea how to help myself—had I not been getting the support I critically needed, I would have failed miserably in helping my students to learn.
I admit that in a moment of desperation I visited a variety of teacher websites looking for lesson-planning help when other support wasn’t immediately available. And although these popular sites may have had cute classroom decorations, I had no way of knowing what resources were based in rigorous research or tied to any measures of quality.
Some of the tools may have been great – but some of them likely were not so great. In law school, I was able to research and find answers to any question related to the law on reputable and rigorous websites, but when I was teaching I was shocked to find that similar resources did not exist for educators.
For this reason, resources like the Middle School Matters (MSM) Field Guide and tools are critical in helping teachers improve their practice. When I learned about Middle School Matters, I immediately wished that I had known about this incredible suite of tools when I was teaching.
MSM is not a curriculum - -it isn’t telling you what book to read or lesson plan to follow. Instead, the MSM resources give teachers research-based instructional practices, performance management strategies, and support tools that will lead to better student outcomes, no matter what curriculum or program a teacher is using in a given subject.
Every practice recommended on www.greatmiddleschools.org is based on rigorous research and has been refined in real classrooms. Teachers can access this free material at any time.
For example, as a new teacher I struggled to implement non-fiction reading practices into my 6th grade social studies classroom. I was so focused on my own content area that it took me a while to realize that social studies is the perfect place to help students fall in love with non-fiction reading. It wasn’t until we began to read a novel on the Holocaust in class that I realized that I hadn’t been teaching reading at all.
My students had read every day in class, but I wasn’t improving their reading practices. My coach and principal stepped in to help me improve in this area which benefitted my students, but many teachers don’t have that same support. Even in districts where this support is offered, teachers still need great resources that they can access independently.
The MSM resources help to fill this need. MSM includes great tools, including a Field Guide, videos, and coaching, all available to any teacher for free – something I am thrilled that so many teachers can access no matter where they teach.
Abby Hoak-Morton serves as the Associate for Education Reform at the George W. Bush Presidential Center. She works across the team’s portfolio and provides special support to the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries.
Prior to joining the Bush Center, she was a 1st and 6th grade teacher at Uplift Education. Her professional experience also covers both law and politics, including coordinating several local election campaigns. Hoak-Morton interned in the White House Freedom Corps office during the George W. Bush Administration and at the Office of George W. Bush.
She received her bachelor’s degree and her J.D. from Southern Methodist University.Full Bio
Lessons Learned from the Middle School Initiative
The George W. Bush Institute began the Middle School Matters (MSM) initiative in 2010 with the goal of increasing the number of students who are prepared for high school and post-secondary success. The middle grade years are the last best chance to get students ready for success both in high school and beyond, but these grades are often overlooked in both research and resources The MSM initiative takes on this challenge by turning high-quality research into strategies for districts, schools, and teachers to improve reading, writing, and math instruction. The initiative also helps educators better use data to identify students at-risk of dropping out. Six years into this project, we have produced an in-depth look at what we have learned. Lessons Learned from the Middle School Initiative shares what we know about creating and implementing this unique program. Among the lessons are these four key discoveries: Connecting educators and researchers improves everyone’s p
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