Fires in the Middle School Bathroom: Advice for Teachers from Middle Schoolers

Fires in the Middle School Bathroom: Advice for Teachers from Middle Schoolers

by Kathleen Cushman, Laura Rogers


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The highly anticipated sequel to the bestselling Fires in the Bathroom—filled with practical, honest advice from middle school students to their teachers

Following on the heels of the bestselling Fires in the Bathroom, which brought the insights of high school students to teachers and parents, Kathleen Cushman now turns her attention to the crucial and challenging middle grades, joining forces with adolescent psychologist Laura Rogers.

As teachers, counselors, and parents cope with the roller coaster of early adolescence, too few stop to ask students what they think about these critical years. Here, middle school students in grades 5 through 8 across the country and from diverse ethnic backgrounds offer insights on what it takes to make classrooms more effective and how to forge stronger relationships between young adolescents and adults. Students tackle such critical topics as social, emotional, and academic pressures; classroom behavior; organization; and preparing for high school. Cushman and Rogers help readers hear and understand the vital messages about adolescent learning that come though in what these students say.

This invaluable resource provides a unique window into how middle school students think, feel, and learn, bringing their needs to the forefront of the conversation about education.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781595584830
Publisher: New Press, The
Publication date: 08/04/2009
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 324,435
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Kathleen Cushman is the author of Fires in the Bathroom (The New Press). She lives in New York City. Laura Rogers, EdD, has a doctorate from Harvard University and twelve years experience as a school psychologist working with adolescents. She teaches at Tufts University and lives in Harvard, Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt


This book came about because of the wide interest sparked among educators
by its 2003 predecessor, Fires in the Bathroom: Advice to Teachers from
High School Students
, by Kathleen Cushman. In that volume, students from
four urban areas around the United States offered their perspectives on classroom
teaching and learning, along with suggestions for increasing their motivation
and engagement in school. Like this book, Fires in the Bathroom took
shape with the support of the MetLife Foundation, whose Supporting New
Teachers Initiative recognizes how much teachers can learn from students, if
• nly given the chance. What Kids Can Do, a small nonprofit organization aimed
at raising youth voices on issues that matter, sponsored the research and writing
• f both books.

Although Fires in the Bathroom was intended for an audience of new teachers
in urban high schools, educators and students in many other settings
responded to the candid, astute voices of its student co-authors. Their observations
may have originated in big-city public high schools, but they also struck a
deep chord with teachers in suburban, rural, and independent schools.

Teachers of the middle grades responded, too, especially those new to the
profession. Like their high school counterparts, they sometimes found themselves
wondering what to do when, as one high school student put it in the first
book, “she’s trying to be so nice and they’re setting fires in the bathroom.”
These teachers read the advice of high school students with great interest, but
also with caution. Their middle school students might care just as much about
many of the issues high schoolers raised, but they seemed to care in a different
way. When teachers discovered fires in the middle school bathroom, they noted,
those fires were almost certainly lighted in a very different frame of mind.

These middle-grades teachers had their own questions for younger students:
What helps you want to try hard in school—or keeps you from doing so?
How can we help you deal with the social issues and pressures you face? What’s
fair in the classroom, and why? What helps you understand your challenging
academic subjects? When it comes to your parents, what do teachers need to
know and do? How can we best prepare you for the transition to high school?

In summer and fall 2005, Kathleen Cushman traveled to five urban areas
(Rhode Island, California, New York, Indiana, and Connecticut) to record the
thoughts and suggestions of forty urban middle schoolers from over a dozen
schools. Some spent a few hours in those sessions, others a few days. The differences
in their responses—some terse and guarded, others loquacious and opinionated—
reflected not just the length of time they spent in dialogue, but also
variations in their ages and grades, the schools they attended, and the backgrounds
from which they came. Every conversation yielded new questions, and
• ften surprising answers. (When students spoke in nonstandard English, we
left their language unedited.)

Laura Rogers joined this project as co-author to help distill and interpret
the transcripts of the students’ responses. A developmental psychologist and
teacher educator, she brings thirty years of experience working with adolescents
to the task of understanding student declarations that otherwise seemed wildly
inconsistent. (She spent the past twelve of these years in a public charter school
for students in grades seven through twelve, which together the two authors
helped to start.) Her experience working with teachers brought us confidence in
the book’s purpose, methods, and structure (explained in our first chapter). Our
• wn back-and-forth conversations about what the students were telling us
helped us set their advice and admonitions into a developmental context. In
doing so, we aim to help teachers gain new perspectives, sustain their good
humor, and continue to develop in their profession.

We hope you will recognize the enormous importance you have to your students.
When the students in this book talked about instruction, they largely
talked about how they felt about their teachers, and how their teachers made
them feel about themselves as learners. As you listen to them speak of their
hopes and their vulnerabilities, we have confidence that you will find ways to
better support them during their journey on the middle school bridge.

Kathleen Cushman and Laura Rogers

Harvard, Massachusetts
July 2007

Table of Contents


Preface xi

Introduction: Journey over a Bridge 1
“Middle school still teaches you, but it’s a part of growing up.”

1. Everything Is Off Balance 14
“We’re not really sure what’s expected of us.”

2. A Teacher on Our Side 39
“An ideal teacher understands and pays attention to the kid.
They should be friendly, but not too friendly.”

3. Social Forces in the Classroom 66
“Everybody grew up together but still, we don’t talk to each other
as much as you would think.”

4. Helping Us Grow into Confident Learners 103
“Sometimes I want to ask the question, but I don’t want to seem
like I’m dumb.”

5. Using Our Energy to Help Us Learn 132
“It’s not going to be boring because you’ll be doing something
that you like to do.”

6. Make Way for Parents 151
“Parents should change when you get to middle school.”

7. Our Transition to High School 170
“That’s all I was thinking about all summer long, staying up late:
What’s high school going to be like?”

Epilogue: Through the Kaleidoscope 193
“Teachers don’t know what the kids are thinking,
they only make a guess.”

Resources for Middle-Grades Teachers 201

Acknowledgments 206

The Student Contributors 209

Index 215

What People are Saying About This

Deborah Kasak

"This book brings out the essence of what, and how, middle school kids think. Teachers can learn from them-not just new teachers, but those who have been in the field for a while."--(Deborah Kasak, Executive Director, National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform)

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Fires in the Middle School Bathroom: Advice for Teachers from Middle Schoolers 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It look so good although I'm just a kid and I do not know password
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book hits the mark. A great read for all teachers.