Being a teacher comes with various demands, regardless of the age group taught. But those considering joining the profession or teachers wanting to experience working in a different school environment might wonder: is it harder to teach elementary or middle school students?
Most teachers, academics, and child psychologists believe that middle school is harder to teach than elementary school due to the role of puberty on childhood development, specialized classes, larger schools, more complex school structures, and increased academic pressure.
To better understand why middle school is more challenging to teach than elementary school, we will explore the challenges of both schools in greater detail below to help you formulate your own opinion on the matter.
What Are The Challenges Of Teaching Middle School?
There are four common challenges with teaching middle school children:
- Social and behavioral challenges
- Specialized knowledge and classroom preparation
- Increased academic pressure
- Larger schools and faculties
Social And Behavioral Challenges
From a biological perspective, middle school children likely have their first encounter with puberty and the challenges these changes bring.
Physical changes in the body coupled with hormonal changes can result in children that are easily stressed, quick to anger, or mistrust authority.
Along with biological changes come the inevitable social changes with puberty and increased awareness of a social hierarchy developing in the school space. Consequently, many middle school children may be uncertain of themselves and where they fit in.
Specialized Knowledge And Classroom Preparation
Most middle schools require that teachers teach specific subjects to various classes throughout the semester. Therefore, unlike elementary school teachers who usually stay with a single class the entire year, middle school teachers teach multiple courses in a specific discipline.
Middle school teachers need specialized knowledge in a particular subject and understand how to best teach that subject across numerous classes of differing ages and abilities.
Because middle school teachers are not with a single class the entire semester, it is vital that they meticulously plan their courses. The strategy will impart specialized knowledge to a broad range of students and include enough flexibility in student ability to adapt the content of lessons organically.
In the video below, Dianne McKinley goes over the importance of lesson planning with valuable tips for educators.
Increased Academic Pressure
Middle school is the beginning of one’s formal academic journey, meaning there is increased pressure on students from themselves and their parents to perform well in standardized tests, assignments, and examinations.
Teachers will be subject to this external pressure and stress, and they need to be able to empathize with the concerns of their students and their parents. They should also ensure that their students have all available resources and support to excel academically.
Larger Schools and Faculties
Unlike most kindergartens and elementary schools, middle schools have larger student bodies, faculties, and staff compliments. Therefore, students are exposed to various styles of teaching, class rules, acceptable etiquette, etc.
One of the biggest challenges with large student bodies and not having a single class is that teachers must adapt to how different classes interact with their teachers. Teachers should be able to set classroom rules that do not contradict the ethos of the school and other courses students may be taking.
Teachers must have a nuanced and varied approach to classroom management to keep students engaged, focused, and under control. Watch the video below for helpful information about how to manage a middle school classroom.
What Are The Challenges Of Teaching Elementary School?
There are four common challenges with teaching elementary school children:
- Limited control or knowledge of prior education
- Parental engagement and expectations
- Teaching multiple subjects
- Classroom and time management
Limited Control Or Knowledge Of Prior Education
Many elementary school teachers are challenged by various academic levels in a class, particularly concerning core skills like reading, writing, and mathematical literacy.
Elementary school is often a child’s first exposure to formal schooling. While this offers plenty of excitement and opportunities for elementary teachers, it also presents them with obstacles. Specifically, having limited control or knowledge of a student’s prior education and the academic support they received at home before attending school.
Elementary school teachers need to be very patient and adaptable with their students while ensuring that students can follow the material without being left behind by more academically minded peers.
Parental Engagement And Expectations
Because elementary school is the beginning of a child’s journey into the schooling system, where academic pursuits replace primary motor and social skills teaching, many parents will place a lot of pressure on teachers to ensure the needs of their children are met.
The longer hours and level of independence of elementary school compared to kindergarten means that parents are understandably more anxious about their child’s safety and well-being while transitioning to elementary school.
Elementary school teachers should brace themselves with lengthy engagements with overly-involved parents and ensure they take their concerns sincerely while not neglecting their teaching method or favoring one student.
Teaching Multiple Subjects
Unlike most middle schools, which divide their teachers into faculties that teach specific subjects to multiple classes, elementary school teachers are expected to teach a broad range of core subjects to a single class throughout the semester.
Elementary school teachers must have a thorough and broad understanding of multiple subjects and the best way to teach these subjects to a single class of varying academic capabilities.
There is a lot of pressure on elementary school teachers to teach children the core skills of arithmetic, literacy, basic scientific understanding, and problem-solving, as these form the foundation of their academic careers and capabilities going forward.
Classroom And Time Management
Finally, elementary school teachers tend to have challenges with time management, as they are expected to perform “hands-on teaching” to ensure all their students can access the learning through engaging activities.
The limitations of preparing and planning such exciting lessons are that they are significantly time-consuming and more difficult to predict, which impacts the teacher’s ability to manage their time.
In contrast, middle school teachers can better plan classes, primarily thanks to the ability of students to conduct independent work or assignments (such as giving students a time limit to complete a standardized test).
Elementary school teachers are often the first entry into classroom management for many students, meaning they have a massive responsibility to instill the appropriate classroom etiquette and rules.
When deciding whether to teach elementary or middle school, teachers should carefully consider the challenges associated with each, so they can make an informed decision before committing to a teaching post.
Most groups involved and invested in education agree that middle school tends to be harder than elementary school for a teacher.
It is vital to remember that while teaching middle school can be difficult, it is a fulfilling and exciting career for those teachers looking to challenge themselves. The video below highlights five reasons why teaching in middle school is worth it.