Sarah Anderson teaches middle school humanities and interdisciplinary studies at a place-based charter school in Portland, Ore. Originally from rural Vermont, Anderson has also taught nature studies to urban middle school students in the California Redwoods, career skills to at-risk youth on an educational farm in Vermont and Civics and Global Studies at an independent school in Maryland. She earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies at Bard College and a masters in education in Integrated Learning from Antioch New England Graduate School.

Articles by Sarah

Teachers Benefit from Yearly Book Club

Educators at this school find that their book club helps build the teacher community and provides a vehicle for support when needed.

Finding Character in 'Lord of the Flies'

My colleagues thought my teaching Lord of the Flies was “perfect.” My seventh-grade class is two-thirds male. The group contains several strong personalities and many “followers,” who often mimic bad behavior. Last year, teachers struggled with this group, several instances of bullying, and a developing culture of negativity. I saw the power struggles on the first day of school and knew I had to address them early.

Don’t Let Anxiety Stunt Students

As a student, seventh grade was a really scary time for me. Even now, I distinctly remember the churning in my belly every morning when I arrived at school. I was crippled by insecurity when the teacher called my name in class and all eyes turned my way. School felt aggressive and frightening. Students struggled for power and to be seen as “popular.” I began to realize that my anxiety was something that made me different from the other kids.

Problem-Solving as a Class Earns Merit

Last year, our staff adopted the positive discipline approach to replace ineffective no-tolerance policies. Positive discipline is based on the practice of problem-solving instead of punishment. At its core are weekly class meetings, where students work through problems together. At the beginning of the year, teachers “train” students to present problems and offer solutions. Within this process, both teachers and students explore topics such as mutual respect, encouragement and recognizing mistaken goals. One of the biggest challenges is to shift our focus from punishment to solutions.

Addressing Bullying from the Inside Out

Middle school teachers struggle to find ways to respond to bullying, teasing, name-calling and exclusionary practices among students. We tread lightly sometimes, afraid of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time thus making conditions worse for a bullied student. Being heavy-handed almost never works. Students also know how to say the right thing to adults and then act in a completely contrary way towards peers.