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Substitute Insight Series: Middle School Education

Oh, middle school, the time period is where students (ages 11-14) are not yet adults, but no longer children.

During this stage, middle schoolers are often more physically mature than emotionally mature. Both boys and girls begin to become more aware of what’s happening in the world and how that affects them, and many kids start communicating with more nonverbal language, like posture and tone of voice.

Middle schoolers meet developmental milestones at widely varied times — just walking into middle school will reveal a huge variation in physical maturity among students even in the same grade. But there are certain cognitive and social skills middle-schoolers are working on developing by the time high school rolls around.

It goes without saying that paraprofessionals and substitute teachers play a huge role not only in the educational formation of adolescents, both long-term and short-term, but also in a student’s overall well-being.

From managing multiple classes to finding the perfect solution to free time for the different subjects you are now overseeing; the material and enthusiasm level in a middle school classroom should revolve around helping the students flourish intellectually.

Here at Insight, we value our education professionals and want to make sure our substitute teachers and paraprofessionals feel prepared when they step into a middle school classroom.

Read on for the third post of our series, Substitute Insight Series: Middle School Edition.

Lesson 3: Middle School Tips & Tricks

With each ring of the bell rolls in a new section, it is important to remember each section brings a different aura to the room.

You are going to spend no more than 40-60 minutes with each section, so the focus is on enriching students’ experiences and keeping them focused on retaining information. It will be important to help keep the focus on their work, and making sure the room is not out of line.

Paraprofessionals and substitutes should be prepared to meet the needs of the classroom to provide an intellectual, enthusiastic school day for all middle school levels.

Presence is president

For each class, it is important to set the tone of how you are going to run the classroom.

Before the bell rings, make sure to write your name on the board, as well as the
assignments/plans for the class period the teacher has left you in their lesson plan. This will allow the students to clearly see just because their teacher is out, does not mean it’s a study hall time.

Once the bell rings and all the students are settled in their seats, introduce yourself to the students and repeat the assignment/plans, and begin to take attendance.

After you set the tone for how you run the classroom, it is important to keep students focused on their work.

To make sure the students do not get rowdy, walk around the room and answer questions if needed.

If they start to get loud, ask them to quiet down politely. If they ignore your warning, turn the room into a quiet zone.

Take charge in situations that occur unexpectedly, such as a student refusing to listen. As mentioned in our previous post, when one student becomes out of line it can be a virus to the students nearby.

Pull the student(s) aside who are causing trouble to the side or out in the hall and give a one-on- one warning they need to settle down. Be clear about consequences of their actions, and the list of actions that can be taken, such as: going to the office or having them sit in the front/back of the room with you.

Taking charge and having a strong presence will show your students that you are not here to play.

Value of middle school

With all the hormones in the air, middle school can get a bad reputation. Pre-teens are in the throes of figuring out who they are, how they fit into the world, and learning time management in relation to their new academic responsibilities.

The troubles of a pre-teen may scare some when it comes stepping into middle school classroom, but middle school is better than the reputation it gets.

We recommend Insight professionals experience all levels of education. If you did not think middle school would be the right fit for you, test the waters. It’s not the same as elementary school or high school.

The majority of the students are there to learn. Whether you are substituting for the day or multiple times, these students are looking to you for leadership. Your actions lead the classroom and have a strong effect on students.

You are molding the mind of these students and demonstrating caring, respect, and fairness within those 40-60 minutes you spend with section can have a large impact on students.

Pre-teens: Yes they are manageable

Sometimes you need to give a little, to get a little.

Middle schoolers are in the stages of beginning to figure out who they are, who their friends are, while getting a deeper look into the information they began to learn in elementary school.

It is important to read and follow the teacher’s lesson plan they have left you. Unless the teacher notes are vague, the teacher may have left you a brief description of certain tips to handle each section, or even some students are should keep your eye out on. The teacher may even recommend if a certain class period or assignment is to be done quietly or in a group.

Take these into high consideration; a teacher knows their students better than others.

If your students do decide to act up, remember there is no longer a warning chart on the board to tell the student they have done wrong. Give students who act up a warning and they continue to act up, send them to the office. Remember to write a teacher a note about the incident, and message the office to let them know a student is coming down.

If nothing else works, remember the teachers’ next door from your classroom are your best friend(s). They will help guide you with having to deal middle school students, and may even have one or two of your students in their classes as well.

You may also reward students if they have been a pleasure in class.

If they are working in groups, feel free to play some of today’s hits as background music.

They will appreciate the gesture and will respond positively to the assignments you are asking them to complete.

Overall, remember each class of students is different from one another. Time will fly by for the small amounts of time your school’s class period last.


Insight education professionals are equipped with the capability to think quickly on their feet.

Whether the teacher’s lesson plan is vague or nonexistent, filling this time with educational entertainment is a great way to keep students engaged and learning.

While you can also fill this time with free time for the students, here are suggested education-approved movies and activities to use during free time:


1. Crash Course

Crash Course is an educational YouTube channel providing middle school approved animated videos explaining courses from biology to world history. Whether you’re substituting literature class or world history class, Crash Course has you covered and the animated style will keep their eyes glued to screen, while storing the information in their long-term memory.

2. Back to the Future (1985)

Math & Science:

If the math teacher you’re substituting for did not leave you a lesson no worries! Back to the Future is not only a classic movie, it comically explores math in the context of time travel. It references math topics such as: unit rates, probability, statistics, and estimation. Not only is this throwback perfect for math class, it is a great substitute with a heavy math loaded-science class also. The best is of this movie is Back to the Future will be threading mathematics into your students head without them realizing it!

English and History:

Back to the Future can be used in English and history classes due to the aspect they tackle the idea how both the future and the English language may transform. Substitutes can either show this movie on its own, or may incorporate worksheets and/or games that can compare how accurate the writers came to predicting that time period.


1. Word Search

If you are substituting close to the holiday or were left with a vague description of a lesson plan, a word find is the perfect solution! Word searches can help brain cognition and concentration as students’ brains are focusing on certain words, while also expanding their vocabulary and spelling skills. Word searches are a fun way of entertaining middle schoolers whether it is related to an upcoming holiday, or you can translate the class list into a search using a word search generator.

2. Mad Libs

Mad libs are a(n) (adjective) way of combining both the class’s current subject and mixing up worksheets and reading assignments. Mad Libs can be fitting from the multiple subjects you may be asked to fill in for. They are a great way to have the kids interact with not only each other, but also with you. You can use either a mad libs generator or you and your students can fill these published libs. Please just make sure you disclose to your students that explicit vocabulary is unacceptable and not tolerated.

Thanks for reading! Check back for the continuation of Insight’s Developing Classroom Presence Series!

If you our new to our series, read up on past posts!

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