If this is the year of the middle school in Montgomery County, Billie-Jean Benson is all for it. Students change dramatically over their three middle school years, and a good education accommodates these changes.
“It’s wonderful to have a focus on middle school,” said Bensen, who begins her third year as principal of Hoover Middle School.
Middle school is a good time for parents to grant their children some more independence, Bensen said. If a student forgets his homework at home, for instance, a parent should think twice about driving to school and dropping it off. Dealing with the consequences might be a learning experience for the student about scheduling, preparation or time management.
“It’s time to let them stumble a bit and take a few chances” Bensen said.
While grades are important, middle school students are at an age where they can risk taking a different course or one with some rigor, without concerns about impacting a college application, said Benson. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to try different things.”
“By the end of eighth grade, they’ve learned how to learn in seven different classes,” said Marjorie Kenemuth, a 15-year teacher at Hoover who heads the reading department. “They’re prepared for high school.”
THERE ARE PLENTY of directions a Hoover student can take academically.
Bensen is proud of the variety of classes Hoover offers, including the Chinese Immersion Program. This year, Hoover begins teaching a non-immersion Chinese language course for sixth- and seventh-graders.
Hoover students may also enroll in a Software Applications by Design course, or the Jason Project, an elective science course for seventh- and eighth-graders. Multimedia Publications is a one-semester course where students will produce and write for the student newspaper and literary magazine.
“The relationship between students and adults at Hoover is open, warm and very professional,” Kenemuth said.
To maintain this atmosphere, Hoover structures each teachers’ day so they can meet with colleagues who teach the same students. It’s an opportunity for teachers to work as a team and get a greater sense of each student’s development, Bensen said.
“The staff here is just phenomenal,” Bensen said. “They make sure the students get it, and make sure they are ready to go to high-school.”
KEYS TO TEACHING
Marjorie Kenemuth teaches sixth-grade reading and chairs the reading department at Hoover Middle School.
Kenemuth believes there are several key virtues to teaching middle school: “Compassion, patience, a love of learning and flexibility.”
Compassion is essential in teaching students who change and mature, sometimes abruptly, during their middle school years. “So many children need our attention emotionally,” Kenemuth said.
Changes in curriculum and educational practice demand flexibility in a career teacher. “We are constantly adapting to new situations … and new ways of doing things,” Kenemuth said.
Patience is all the more of a virtue in the middle school environment “because students are learning at different rates all the time,” Kenemuth said. “We need to reach those who are going to learn a new concept in a different way.”
Finally, a love of learning can fuel a lifelong love of teaching. Each teacher, no matter how experience, has something to learn from her students. “Students are teaching us every day how to be better,” Kenemuth said.