A political row developed over Budget moves, now rescinded, to increase class sizes in schools. Intermediate school principal Andrea Knight asked her students what they thought about their teachers' roles in their lives.
Early adolescents, 10 to 14 year olds, are changing rapidly, physically, emotionally and socially.
This rapid development is second only to the rate of development in the first two years of life.
Because of this, there are a number of school conditions required to ensure early adolescents are highly motivated and academic performance is maintained. Many of these conditions are very different to those needed by pre-adolescent students and those in late adolescence.
I asked some of my students what they felt they particularly needed to achieve success in their learning as well as feeling socially and personally supported at our school. Here are some of their responses:
Early adolescents need to feel physically and emotionally safe.
"I like having one teacher who really knows me well. I talk to her if I have a problem and she gives me good advice but doesn't tell me what to do. She tells us to be our own person and to not follow what others do if we know it is wrong. Our teacher knows us as individuals and gives us attention when we need it."
"We have consequences here when we do something we shouldn't do but they are not over the top. The teachers say that is part of our learning."
"There is zero tolerance of any bullying and if there is a problem a teacher or Mrs Knight follows it up very quickly. We don't have rules but values, which are about the way we should treat each other. I like that we are all about the same age at intermediate school so everyone gets on well and year 8s don't see themselves as better than year 7s."
Early adolescents enjoy having choices, being challenged and love practical activities. They are ready for more academic rigour in their learning. They relate particularly well to learning that has a purpose and is relevant to their lives. They are ready for more responsibility and independence.
"I really looked forward to coming to a new school in year 7. I was at my old school for six years and I was ready for a change. I felt excited and a bit scared but I have made many new friends who have come from other schools and I really like having different teachers for some subjects. It can get boring having the same teacher all the time."
"Our science teacher went to university and knows a lot about science. He only teaches science so he doesn't have to worry about teaching us maths and other stuff. He makes science fun. It is very hands on and we do lots of experiments. I am learning lots of new things and I am very interested in doing science at high school next year."
"In technology we make things like a pizza which I really like but we also have to develop a brief, come up with a design, get feedback from stake holders and work out things we would change if we were making another pizza."
"Last year we did an inquiry called 'What's worth fighting for: Christchurch our City'. We learned a lot about the history of Christchurch and we realised what a special place it is to us. We put together a multimedia slide show about what we wanted in Christchurch for our age group."
Having opportunities to get involved in a wide range of extracurricular activities helps early adolescents develop skills that boost their self-esteem. It also gives them the chance to develop strengths and to find strengths they did not know they had. We know that it is in year 7 and year 8 that students start to set goals and career aspirations for the future.
"I always felt nervous about talking in front of other people but when I got into the speech finals for year 7 I realised that I could be a good speaker and I actually really enjoyed it."
"There are lots of different opportunities to get involved in the school through sport, music, art, having a responsibility, being a leader et cetera. We are encouraged to try new things and that helps us know more about what we are good at which makes us think about what we want to do in the future."
Early adolescents need teachers who are caring, respectful, knowledgeable, encouraging and engaging and who can easily connect learning to students' lives and interests. They listen to their students. These teachers do not sacrifice rigour and high expectations but rather they have the ability to challenge all students to achieve to the best of their abilities.
"I like that we are expected to be more responsible and that our teachers have high expectations of us. It is a bit hard to start with when we start in year 7 because we have been used to our teachers telling us what to do. It does get easier because our teachers help us and listen to us. We do have to learn to be organised and to get to sports meetings and other things on time by ourselves."
"I was worried that the work would be much harder and that there would be a lot more homework. The work is harder and I definitely have more homework but it is helping me get ready for what I will have to do at high school. I feel I am becoming more independent. I know that I have to take responsibility for my own learning but my teacher is there to help me when I need it."
Early adolescence is a very special time in an individual's development.
Our intermediate school teachers and principals play a critical role in ensuring our young adolescents are in a learning environment that is supportive, engaging, focused on individual learning needs as well as challenging so that they all have the opportunity to thrive.
Andrea Knight is principal of Heaton Normal Intermediate School and an educational psychologist.
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