Lay down the rules first, then connect with the child

This post was written last night. I was so tired when I got home I fell asleep before hitting “publish”.

So, I’m sitting in a middle school classroom right now. Its in the school district where I live, which is pretty far from the school district where I used to teach. But, you know? Middle school classrooms are middle school classrooms no matter what.

Its a 7th grade math room and I sneaked a peak at the teacher’s lesson plans and textbook. They’re really no different from the lessons when I taught and subbed in middle school, and those are not too far from the text books when I was in school. But that’s math.

184239Back when we were in school we certainly didn’t have 4 fancy flat screen computers in our room. And I wonder if this school has laptops for each student? Something to ask, as my kids will likely go here some day.

I loved teaching middle school. I know. That sounds insane, right? What with all the hormones and everything. But these kids, when you get past the stigma of self esteem and peer pressure (yes, you can get past it), they love to participate. You can carry a conversation with them so easily once you connect.

I subbed 6th grade math for 2 weeks when I was just starting out. The teacher had suffered a miscarriage and was out for a while. This gave me a great opportunity to really know the class.

Of course, we all remember the subs who were mistreated by their students when we were in school. So, here’s my secret: I started each class laying down the law. I knew 6th graders, I had been one before. I prepared with the agenda on the board, let them know I meant business by expressing the purpose of the lesson. And the kids rolled their eyes. Then I smiled. I probably made a joke. I may have even teased a student that I knew from another class, or one that looked like he had something up his sleeve. And that’s all it took to let them know I was there with them.

See, whether you’re a substitute teacher, a teacher or a parent, this is what it takes. In fact, this is what it takes for an adult. It takes reminding the kid that there’s a purpose to your day, moment, road trip, venture to Walmart, whatever. Let them know your expectations up front. Let them know that there’s no throwing paper across the classroom, or your car. And no running across the classroom mid-lesson, just like there’s no running in the parking lot. If you don’t tell them your purpose and expectations, how do you expect them to know? Believe me. 12-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 3-year-olds. They’re not mind readers.

Then, after you establish your purpose and rules.  Smile. Encourage them that you’re with them in this one. No, you don’t think that learning poly grams is going to make or break the world, just like a quick stop at Target for peanut butter shouldn’t be life changing. What is life changing is the connection that you make and how you make it. Show them that you’re with them to have fun. Poke a little fun at a subject to loosen up.

So long as you lay down the rules before you’re playful, you’ll have a lot more time to enjoy with the kids around you.

mom of 3 and wife living in the Philadelphia suburbs, Julie is a former elementary school teacher and a Public Relations manager. She is the owner/editor of Julieverse, a merchandiser with Chloe + Isabel ( and founder VlogMom and Splash Creative Media. A marketing strategist and freelance education and parenting writer by trade, Julie attempts to carve out time to enjoy playing with her kids, PTO, cooking and exercise.

© 2010, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.


  1. says

    I love this post. The thing I love the most is you really do like Middle school kids. We did MS youth ministry for almost 10 years. It’s always been my favorite age. Sadly I only have 2 more months with a MS in my house then they will both be in HS. Those have been my favorite years of parenting.
    I also just looked over and saw that you are doing the UBP, cool, but that’s not what got me here. I will have to look around some more.
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..4/11 SmartSource and RedPlum Inserts for Portland =-.


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