Middle Schoolers- I love em' but I know that sometimes they hate coming to me.
I learned about "The Big Lie" in my Middle School Philosophy Course. Adolescents often believe that everyone is watching them all of the time. They are very egocentric and want desperately to fit in. Speech and Language Services don't fit in really well with that idea.
While "The Big Lie" is just that, I don't want my middle school students to feel singled out, stereotyped, or different from their peers.
Here are some things that I do to be respectful and careful not to draw attention to the students whom I serve.
1. Email: I'm fortunate that all of my students have laptops with school e-mail which is checked daily. I can now email students their schedule, remind them if they miss a session, and let them know if a schedule change has occurred. I never enter the classroom of a middle school student to pull-out for services.
2. Follow the Leader: I let my students know that I will take their lead. If they say "hi" to me in the hallway, I will respond appropriately. If they don't acknowledge me, I will respond the same way and won't be offended or consider it rude. We discuss this in length during our initial session. I let the students know that this has nothing to do with social skills, but rather their confidentiality which brings respect to the service.
3. Be a Seen SLP: It's always good to get involved with the general education population. I start the year in the classrooms so that I can connect with all students. I want to be a familiar and friendly face, not "That Speech Lady."
4. Know What You Do: Every year I'm asked by middle school students, "What do you do?" (teachers ask me this too but that's another blog). I share that "I'm a Communication Specialist and all students can benefit from working with me on things like remembering information for tests, vocabulary, listening, working with others, etc". I speak in their language with their school experiences.
5. Emphasize Strengths: Most of our older students are very aware of their weaknesses. It is critical to help our students to learn about their strengths. I teach Multiple Intelligences, Learning Styles, and talk about student strengths that aren't necessarily related to school i.e sports and hobbies.
6. Disability Awareness: I let students know that everybody has weaknesses. By sharing inspirational quotes and success stories of famous people/athletes who have overcome difficulties, my students begin to realize that they are not alone, and that with work they can achieve their goals.
7. Connect: It's okay to share personal experiences about your learning. I became an SLP because I had a frontal lisp. I have no ego in the speech office. I let my guard down by allowing myself to be goofy and have fun, which in turn gives my students permission to do the same.
8. Space Escape: Make your students want to escape to your room. Although it's tempting to post clowns and pirates on my door, I work hard to make my room warm, friendly, inviting, and middle-level appropriate. It's especially inviting to add aroma therapy, plants, and possibly a fruit bowl. I have a gumball machine in my office which I fill with M&Ms, Skittles, and Jelly Beans (I understand that there may be reasons that candy isn't the best option).
9. Fun: My students love gadgets. I have wind-up toys, fidget balls, and am ordering some ball and spin chairs for my active ever-growing middle students.
I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to work with the unique and endearing population of middle-level students and hope that some of these techniques may help reduce student self-consciousness and aid in better connections with your students.
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