Crash Course on Working with Middle Schoolers
Middle schoolers are at a transition point in their lives. They are at the beginning of the crossroads between childhood and adulthood, and if you are working with them regularly, you will see that first hand. Each student will have times of amazing brilliance and insight, but also times of goofy or inattentive behavior. This is normal, and you will see how much your student matures over the course. Here’s a few tips to keep in mind when working with this age group:
1) Give your student plenty of time to think. If you ask a question, wait patiently for the answer. Practice sitting in silence, to give them time to think and come up with an answer. If you have a difficult time with silence, count in your head. If you reach 50 and the student still hasn’t spoken, then you can consider rephrasing the question.
2) Help your student learn the words of faith. Eighth graders may have great ideas but lack the language to explain them. Invite them to share their ideas in whatever way they can, and as appropriate, share with them new words and ways of expressing faith.
3) Be prepared to get sidetracked. This age group can focus for a long time, but sometimes their attention span is short. Youth often blurt out what’s important to them – even if it has nothing to do with the topic. Sometimes you’ll want to follow up with your student immediately, and other times you’ll need to ask them to focus. Remember, part of mentoring is simply being with and listening to these youth.
4) Prepare more activities/discussion questions than you think you’ll need. Wouldn’t you rather have a question you don’t get to, than have too few and end up staring at each other? It can be frustrating to plan something and not have time to use it, but those are things you can send the youth home to think about.
5) Share Scripture when you can. Part of becoming a mature Christian is becoming Biblically literate. Maybe this is a growing area for you – that’s fine. It’s helpful for youth to hear which stories and passages of Scripture that are important to you. It’s also important for your students to see and hear how you refer to Scripture.
The Most Important Thing
Remember, many people recognize in you the gifts and graces to do this ministry. In 20 years, these students will not remember much (if any) of what we say. In 50 years, however, they will still remember that when they were young, an adult in the church cared enough to spend time with them. So above all, be yourself. The most important part of this ministry is building relationships – between you, the students, other youth workers, and Jesus Christ.