I recently became the proud mother of two middle school students. We all know the transition from elementary to middle school is a big one for kids. I’m realizing this transition is a big one for families too. With that in mind, I’m taking time to write down my experience in the hope that it will help other educators and parents can better partner with one another to ensure our kids success as they embark of the fun, stressful, exciting and crazy ride that is the middle school experience.


Dear Middle School Teacher:

As a former middle/high school teacher and school coach, I know there is a lot schools do to support students behind the scenes. Much of this hard work isn’t visible to families. Even so, it’s evident in the testimonials I hear every day from families who rave about their children’s great experiences in our public schools. I can speak from personal experience when I say SF educators are doing an AMAZING job to create a space where kids feel safe, positive and successful!

I have been an educator for roughly 20 years. Nonetheless, my past six years as a public school mom has expanded my understanding of our schools more than I could have expected. The largest eye-opener for me has been around school-home communication. Even though my experience as an involved parent leader and advocate has been overwhelmingly positive, I have witnessed many missed opportunities in sharing information and partnering with families.

family communication

My Mea Culpa

Looking back, I’d have to admit that as a teacher there were many times I dropped the ball in communicating with my students’ families. In most cases, these missed opportunities were unintentional. Often, we educators assume parents know what we know. Or, we expect families to ask questions, they don’t know to ask. Or we are so busy doing the work, we forget or don’t have the time to share.

Yet, if I’m truly honest with myself, I can’t deny that I have at times secretly blamed families (in my head) for not supporting children who are struggling. If I am truly honest with myself, I have to admit I “worked around” families because it seemed easier, or less time-consuming. If I am truly honest with myself, I have to admit that I made assumptions about some of my “inner city” students, overestimating my role as a teacher while conversely underestimating (and undermining) families’ role in supporting kids as they navigate their way through our education system.

Teachers (and Parents) Know Transitions are Important

Yesterday, my twin girls attended a 6th grade intake assembly on their first day of middle school. It really resonated when the principal told students to give themselves space and patience in adjusting to middle school. She explained there were going to be a lot of new and exciting changes, and that there would be staff to help them along the way. At that moment, it hit me that in all the effort educators make to ensure a smooth transition for students, we often forget that transitions are a BIG deal for parents and guardians as well.

Let’s talk about the transition to middle school, shall we? In elementary school, parents and guardians are accustomed to having just ONE teacher as a primary point person. If we have a question, idea or concern, whether it be about our child’s academic progress or about a school policy, we most often reach out to our classroom teacher for information or advice. If we don’t get the information we need, or a problem persists, we may reach out to the principal.

As students move into middle school, it can be very confusing to know who to go to when we have a question or problem. Students make the switch to multiple teachers, a counselor, advisors and/or homeroom teachers, after-school providers, wellness and other support staff. This is especially true for families who speak a language other than English, have kids in need of special education services, or are economically struggling.

Educators Need to Take the Lead

It’s important for educators to remember that our children are children. They are still little. We appreciate the opportunity that middle school brings to help them learn to be more and more independent. Nonetheless, parents, guardians, grandparents and other family members play a major part in supporting kids in making these transitions We are an integral part of supporting them in having a successful school experience, especially during their tween/teen years.

Because middle school is a new landscape for us, and we may not know who does what, or what happens when, or where to go… YOU need to make an effort to involve us. Even though you may be used to the day to day of the middle school environment, don’t assume we know how to do this. Help us transition along with our kids, so we can better partner with you to ensure our childrens’ success.

(Check back later for the second part in this series, where I share “Expectations for Teachers from a Middle School Parent.”)

What do you think? If you are a middle school educator or parent, how does your school help families make a successful transition to 6th grade?

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About alimcollins

Ali Collins is an educator, community organizer and mom. She lives with her husband and twin girls in San Francisco, CA.

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