Middle School

Working In a Middle School: Pros and Cons

This past school year I switched to working full-time for a new, wonderful district. The position they offered me was full-time in a middle school. I did not want to work in a middle school, but really wanted to work in this district so I took it, hoping an elementary position would open up soon.

In the past 7 months, I’ve absolutely fallen in love with middle school! The students are so clever, motivated, and engaged, just not always in the ways you’d want 😉

Below are some pros and cons that I’ve found when working with middle schoolers in speech and language therapy. Hopefully it’s helpful if you’re considering a position with this age group!

PROS:

  1. You can have real, adult-like conversations with students every day. My students open up to me about intense, real, ongoing issues. These issues are complex and I love being a problem-solving partner for them!
  2. You have a BIG opportunity to make a difference in a very challenging time in a student’s life. A little support and love goes a LONG way.
  3. I have more prep time! I consistently hear this among middle school SLPS. Because scheduling can be tricky (see below), you actually have a bit more time for prep and paperwork within your day.
  4. I feel so much more connected to my middle school students than I did with younger students. Many of my students consider me a friend/safe space.
  5. Less “gross stuff” haha. There’s overall less bathrooming issues, diapers, snot, germs, coughing, sneezing, puking, etc.. 🙂
  6. Fewer initial evaluations.
  7. Less case management aka less “let’s start with speech and consider additional services later”. By the time they are in middle school, most students have a more appropriate eligibility label.
  8. You can work more on materials related to the curriculum. It’s fun (to me) to target these higher level skills with some critical thinking thrown in.
  9. Planning therapy is WAY easier. I laminate very little these days! I can do so much with an age-appropriate book, a short video, or index cards. I felt this way a little bit in elementary but I never felt super effective during those sessions. Middle schoolers have increased literacy skills, the ability to sit still and complete worksheets, and discuss their learning. To me, these factors combined make planning so, so much easier.
  10. You know what else is easier? Rewards – I don’t do any! I almost always provide gum or tic-tacs (thanks Costco!) while students participate. I sometimes bring putty to keep busy hands busy. I rarely let students keep my “fancy pens” for particularly great things. That is it. No prize box, no brag tags, no rewards. It’s wonderful – and cheap!
  11. I come home less exhausted! I love my preschool students so much BUT they are seriously exhausting. It is easy to forget how much energy they take – running, jumping, lifting, pulling. It’s a blast but I didn’t have much left when I got home.

CONS:

  1. Some students are really over being in speech and language therapy. They start to really become embarrassed about needing extra services and this often comes out as behavior and frustration with you.
  2. The attitude. There is a middle school attitude and it’s real. I combat it with sarcasm, jokes, being playful, and not taking anything personal but it.is.real.
  3. I find scheduling to be more difficult. There are very limited times I can see each of my students. I combat this by doing a ton of in-class minutes which is super fun too.
  4. Because times are limited, my group size tends to be larger. I try to keep groups around 4 students to each group.
  5. More (intense) behaviors. Older students are bigger and to be honest, some of my students can exhibit pretty unsafe behaviors directed towards themselves or adults. This has always been true across settings, but middle schoolers are so much bigger!
  6. You’ll have tricky decisions about dismissal. I find that middle school seems to the the age where dismissal is considered for a variety of factors. These decisions are not easy or simple and make me overthink everything at times.

From what I can tell, certain personalities do better in a middle school. You should be fairly relaxed, open minded, be able to not take things personally, and be able to stay calm in pretty stressful situations.

This year, I’ve had students get their faces right in mine and swear at me, completely refuse to come to therapy, and pinch/kick/scratch/punch me, but I seriously wouldn’t trade my position for any other one. My students see me as a cheerleader, a constant positive force in their lives, somebody who believes in them, and somebody who respects them. Because of this, I have really great success and wonderful buy-in from students 99% of the time.

If after reading this you are considering an age-range swap, try it! You can always go back… but I doubt you will 😉

Have you ever worked in a middle school? What is your favorite age-range?

{thanks for reading}

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Shannon

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14 Comment

  1. Reply
    Debbie
    April 4, 2017 at 1:56 PM

    Yes!!! Middle school can be awesome for all the reasons you mentioned. I loved the conversations with them. My middle schoolers felt speech was a safe place and look they at you as someone that doesn’t judge them. Because of that, they were willing to do anything for me. My kids looked at speech time as a special “club” that only they got to come to! Getting out of class was pretty cool in their eyes. Thanks for sharing. Brings back warm memories:).

    1. Reply
      Shannon
      April 4, 2017 at 2:14 PM

      That is EXACTLY how most of my students see speech too – I absolutely love it! Thanks for your comment.

  2. Reply
    Ashley v
    April 4, 2017 at 4:05 PM

    I’m not an SLP yet (in my 2nd semester of my MS-SLP), but I’ve worked for the past three years as a sped TA in a middle school. I’ve also subbed a bit in an elementary school as a TA, and elementary is not for me! My energy baseline is a bit too low to handle the insane amounts of energy the little ones have! I agree with the pros you have about middle schoolers. I’m not sure if I’ll land in a school or a medical setting in the end, but I love hearing about the middle school side of an SLP!

    1. Reply
      Shannon
      April 4, 2017 at 8:51 PM

      What amazing experience you have leading up to grad school! I feel the same way about energy baseline. Good luck with finishing up everything!

  3. Reply
    New MS Speechie
    April 4, 2017 at 6:25 PM

    SO relevant! I have 4th through 8th grade. I’m still learning all the little battles to pick and choose, but all of your “pros” are spot on. I think next year will flow much better for me. What’s the hardest part for you? For me, it’s the attitudes! Or maybe the scheduling times.

    1. Reply
      Shannon
      April 4, 2017 at 9:23 PM

      There are SO many little battles to pick – I have to decide to ignore so many every day. I think I’ll feel a lot more comfortable and confident next year too – you’re definitely not alone in that! I think the hardest part for me is learning to be a new kind of “expert”. I feel like I have to constantly be learning to figure out how to best target goals for middle school (that matter) and collaborate better with teachers. My school has a big emphasis on push-in therapy which has been a big learning curve!

  4. Reply
    lyonblanc2013
    April 4, 2017 at 6:48 PM

    Shannon, your analysis is so wonderful! If I may say (since knowing you a long time ago), that you always ‘got’ the brain of the middle schooler. You knew this before you knew that you knew it! It’s an amazing age for kids’ growth, and when one is up for the challenges of this age group, the results for the student can be life-long. Thank you for writing this post!

    1. Reply
      Shannon
      April 5, 2017 at 7:07 PM

      Thank you, Marge!!! <3 I miss you!

  5. Reply
    Jessica Lewis
    April 4, 2017 at 7:18 PM

    This, all of this, 101% spot on! I took a job in a middle school after needing a break from private practice. I was extremely intimidated at first because my specialty was PreK. Now I’m split between the middle and high school in our district. I think I may love high school even more than my middle school students. Now I can’t even imagine going back to the little ones. Thanks for everything in your post!

    1. Reply
      Shannon
      April 5, 2017 at 7:08 PM

      We are life twins! I took a very similar path!! You’ve got me curious about high school now 😉

  6. Reply
    Carol
    April 4, 2017 at 8:43 PM

    Yes!! I really needed this!!! I’m in a middle school in a Title 1 school and have considered changing back to a younger population, BUT…all the reasons you mentioned make me second guess myself. The kids who often cause the biggest classroom disruption (probably because of the task being difficult or feeling overwhelmed) are typically no problem for me. Students often ask to come extra or even been caught “skipping” electives to be with me (“I was in speech”….& they think that will excuse them)!! I truly love the kids and feel they love their time with me too!! I will say, the eye rolls, refusal, physical fights with peers are no fun at all. Again, thanks for writing this!! It is just the motivation I needed!!

    1. Reply
      Shannon
      April 5, 2017 at 7:08 PM

      I have a very similar experience at my middle school! I just love the kids!

  7. Reply
    Kathryn
    April 7, 2017 at 8:12 PM

    These are all spot on!! It was nice to read a post and comments that I can relate so well to. I’m in my CFY year, working with middle and high schoolers. Before taking this position, my passion was working with preschoolers. I have to say I’m surprised how much I enjoy those “adult conversations” I have with the older students. However, I’m still trying to combat some attitudes!

  8. Reply
    Julie
    April 29, 2017 at 10:32 AM

    I’m full-time in a fairly large high school and I agree 100% with nearly everything you’ve said. I find, however, that it is nearly impossible to work on specific curriculum because I don’t schedule by grade level but by availablility (study hall) which results in mixed grade groups. I’ve commented numerous times that the first 5-10 minutes of every session is more “social work” but that’s how rapport is built and maintained.

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