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The middle-grounders

Behaviour Management

The middle-grounders

a guide for classroom teachers and teacher aides

Teacher aide assisting a frustrated student during a literacy activity.

The often forgotten middle-grounders deserve our due attention – and more of it. Those new to professional teaching are particularly vulnerable to this teaching faux pas. Not that they should be criticised – most early career teachers aim to do little more than ‘survive’ until the bell sounds. They have little time or energy to worry about the fair distribution of their time, support and attention, or other such philosophical pursuits. As teachers ‘get on top of things’ and learn to manage their classes to a more proficient standard, they start thinking more about the philosophical underpinnings of their work.

It is well-known amongst experienced, high-performing teachers that the middle-grounders can easily be forgotten. It is also widely understood and agreed that every teacher has a moral duty to ensure that all students get the attention they deserve. While understood and agreed theoretically, in reality an equitable distribution of time and energy is not so easy to achieve. Unfortunately, there is no avoiding the fact that a very small percentage of students take up a disproportionate amount of teachers’ time. In some classes, 1 or 2 challenging students will take up more time than 8 or more middle-grounders, some even more. This is unquestionably inequitable and unfair, but also an unavoidable consequence of teaching large numbers of people with a wide variety of personalities and abilities.

Graph demonstrating the relationship between class size and number of issues per student.

Figure: The middle grounders are those who fall into the first 2 categories (left). They receive disproportionately less teacher time than those in the 2 right categories who experience 10 or more behavioural issues per week.

Students in the middle are neither high nor low-performers in most cases. They are usually B or C-grade students who consistently do their work and who are rarely in trouble – the teacher has no need to spend too much time or effort on them from a behaviour management perspective. They just ‘get on with it’ and need little prompting or encouragement. They can basically hide amongst the crowd. The middle-grounders represent about 80% of students. They are not just average performers in an academic sense, their behaviour too is average, but in a good way. They are not eager to impress nor regularly in trouble. These are the students whose names teachers learn last or in some cases, don’t learn at all.

Hint: A developmental curriculum means all students have the equal right to develop from wherever they are now to a better version of themselves. They all have the opportunity to progress from point A (today) to point B (e.g. by next week) regardless of whether they are middle-grounders, gifted and talented, or need remedial support for basic core skills – everyone has a right to this service and your job as the teacher is to make it happen.

Perfect parity in terms of time per student is not possible and nor should it be a goal. In fact, some students simply don’t need or want as much attention as their colleagues. However, they do need attention on a regular basis regardless of how often they ask for it. Being aware of the fact that all students deserve the teacher’s attention is paramount and goes a long way towards reducing this disparity. In addition, spending more time with the middle-grounders means an improved class dynamic. It will encourage them to come out of their shell more, and it puts more peer pressure on other students to behave and to be more independent. Finally, besides the ethical and professional responsibility to cater for all students, the middle-grounders may be your allies today, but they might not be tomorrow. Keeping them on-side is a risk-minimisation approach that comes in handy – better to have them on your side than not.

Hint: Building rapport with the middle-grounders has many unintended benefits. As they don’t receive much attention from some teachers, any attempt to build rapport with them will be met with appreciation (even if they don’t show it initially). This can pay off in ways that you never imagined, such as when you need their immediate compliance in an emergency or a fast-moving situation (e.g. Tyler is in a brawl and you demand he stops: for you, he stops, for other teachers, he may not).

While understood and agreed theoretically, in reality an equitable distribution of time and energy is not so easy to achieve.

About the author

Image of the managing director of ITAC.


Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.

Source: Behaviour Management Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to check his article for accuracy, information may be outdated, inaccurate or not relevant to you and your location/employer/contract. It is not intended as legal or professional advice. Users should seek expert advice such as by contacting the relevant education department, should make their own enquiries, and should not rely on any of the information provided.


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