California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II
Taking Center Stage. Sacramento. California Department of Education, 2001, p. 110
The complex physical and emotional changes taking place in the lives of students during grades six through eight introduce multiple agendas that compete with academic goals. As a result the intellectual priorities of teachers and parents may be temporarily set aside in favor of more demanding considerations, at least from the standpoint of the students.
Teachers, principals, and parents need to accept the legitimacy of the nonacademic preoccupations of middle grades students, even if they seem on the surface to be trivial. It may be surprising to everyone but the students themselves that subject matter is not always their most basic concern.
Research indicates that physical appearance, peer popularity, and athletic activities represent areas of intense concern among young adolescents and that their friends are their single most significant personal preoccupation. Again, this should not be surprising because the socializing functions of schools are very important to the eventual development of mature young adults.
When teachers, counselors, and principals accept the priorities of young adolescents, they can become more tolerant and more intelligent about ways to nurture and strengthen the school’s academic expectations. The emphasis should be on acceptance, and not necessarily on approval.
It is axiomatic that there will be tensions between teachers and students regarding relative priorities, but these need not and should not lead to disabled relationships. Students do not ask for approval. But they have the right to ask for acceptance of legitimate aspects of their growing-up experiences. The weight of a significant volume of research in the social and behavioral sciences is on their side.
School should indeed be a major intellectual experience, but it is also a significant socializing experience. There is an interesting twist to this discussion that is understood by many educators and parents. When students experience acceptance by the significant adults in their lives, the consequence often leads to a much closer identification with the academic goals that those adults value.
The potential also exists for a schoolwide domino effect. Even a few students who develop a clear sense of academic values prized by their teachers and parents can positively influence large numbers of other students in their own classroom and throughout their school.
In essence there is no necessarily unresolvable conflict between the priorities of adolescents related to their growing, maturing bodies and emotions and the parallel concerns of adults for the growth and development of their minds. When each of these discrete yet integrally related agendas is understood and accepted as valid by teachers and parents, everyone’s life becomes more enjoyable, and the likelihood of academic success takes a quantum leap forward.
Teachers and principals who strive to understand what makes young adolescents tick and who respond with sensitivity and acceptance will find themselves being rewarded by students who increasingly identify as their own the adult values that relate to intellectual growth and academic achievement. This agenda lies at the heart of successful standards-based middle schools.
California Department of Education
1430 N Street
Sacramento, CA 95814