The Difference Between 7th and 8th Graders, or Why I Will be Sending my Future Children to Holland The Entire Time They're 13

Saturday, January 21, 2012

I love my 8th graders.  They are fun, inquisitive little creatures.  They can participate in a lesson on a serious topic and maintain an appropriate class discussion in which they are respectful of their peers.  I can tell a funny anecdote and they laugh appropriately.  They can even tell funny anecdotes themselves.  They might sass from time to time, but have the maturity to listen and to consider when I redirect them.  Plus, they’re delightfully weird.

7th graders are a little harder to love. (I can say this because I taught 7th grade last year, and was once an unlovable 7th grader myself.) 7th graders sometimes feel the need to make inappropriate comments during serious discussions, and continue to bring them up despite your efforts as a teacher to shame them.  Most 7th graders are not funny yet, and also think that the only funny people are 7th graders.  Their brand of weird is disturbing.  They are like tiny, pubescent tornadoes-- completely unpredictable, loud, and destructive. 

So why such a huge disparity between 7th and 8th?  What kind of difference could a year really make?  How could the distinction be significant enough to make me willing to put the Atlantic Ocean between myself and my own offspring for an entire year?

I’m here to answer these questions.

1) At 13, 7th graders are not physiologically able to recognize that other people are not simply moons caught in their orbit.

In one of my teaching classes, I learned some neat things about the brain.  Here, meet your amygdala and your frontal lobe.

Your amygdala is responsible for emotions, instincts, and impulses.  Your frontal lobe is your big “thinker,” kind of like the adult part of your brain that takes care of logic and decisions.  Where your amygdala tells you “You should feel pissed-- this is injustice!” your frontal lobe tells you, “Well, take into consideration the reasons why the librarian told you not to practice your scream-yodeling inside.”  In the class I took, I learned that young teenagers tend to use their amygdalas more than their front lobes when processing emotional information (surprise!).  I also learned that the frontal lobe undergoes a huge growth spurt at age 12, followed by a significant period of “pruning.”

By “pruning,” experts mean, “7th grade.”

7th graders are literally figuring out how to use the smart part of their brains.  This is a very exciting time (since it obviously leads to being awesome 8th graders!), but, much like learning to drive a car, there are bound to be tons of close calls, scratches, and fender-benders in that first year.

And teaching Driver’s Ed is something I would just rather avoid.

2) The T-Bone phenomenon

In the second episode of the TV show Arrested Development, Michael watches in exasperation as a fire consumes his family’s storage unit.  In a moment of candor, he turns to T-Bone, his dad’s cellmate, and asks him point-blank:

Michael: T-Bone, did you set fire to the storage unit?
T-Bone: (without skipping a beat) Oh, most definitely.

My 8th graders are like T-Bone.  More often than not, when you confront them about “crimes,” they either admit to them readily or immediately give you the reason behind why they did it.  They know that denying it is pointless, and will make things worse*.  They use their frontal cortexes.

Amygdal-icious 7th graders, alternatively, will go to their graves believing they’ve done something wrong.  (By “graves” I mean “turning 14.”)

I could show a 7th grader a video from 12 different angles of him pushing a teacher down the stairs, ask why he did it, and the 7th grader would say the following:

“That ain’t me!”

“I didn’t push her!”

“She was falling and I tried to catch her!”

“I can’t control my arms!”

“I was sleepwalking!”

“YOU pushed her!”

An 8th grader would say,

“I just don’t like that lady.”

Do you see the difference? One is highly emotional, impervious to the most deserved criticism, oblivious.  The other: accepting, reasoning, justifying.

Since I have approximately zero children right now, I am only able to imagine how this would play out in a mother/child role. My 7th grade daughter telling me that the outrageous cell phone bill I received is my fault for not giving her enough minutes.  My 7th grade son, surrounded by a cloud of humming fruit flies, refusing to acknowledge my plea for him to wear deodorant or bathe. I’m not sure I could handle that kind of interaction since I barely managed to handle it last year in 45-minute increments.

3) Holland is a lovely place.

It’s not like I’m sending them to prison or anything.



*The only exception for 8th graders is the IWTP, which, from what I’ve told, applies to students K-12.


  1. As a brief 7th grade teacher (before moving back down to a more appropriate 4th) this is spot on. They lose their ever-loving minds at 13. It takes a special person to teach middle school. I commend you! My own daughters, btw, will be moving in with Nana from age 13-18! Do you think she'll go for it? (c;

  2. I teach 6th, 7th and 8th grades and have personally witnessed this transformation, from a sweet 6th grade to a (quoting you) "Amygdal-licious" 7th grade and finally to a reasoning 8th grade. Every year, I beg the 6th grade not to change - so far it hasn't worked! Glad to know there's science behind the apparent demonic possession.

  3. I just recently found your blog and I love it. I started my teaching career 15 years ago teaching 8th graders then switched to 7th for awhile. This is my first year back to teaching 8th graders again and I had forgotten how much I really love this age. Everything you say is soooo true! I couldn't have said it better myself.

  4. 7th grade is the worst. My friend taught it both of our first years and I stopped going to visit her classroom on my off period because her students scared me so much.

    Also, a similar phenomenon happens between 9th and 10th grade.

  5. Oh, this is so true! I teach 7th grade and thought it was just my students until I visited an 8th grade class. I just tell myself that I'm earning brownie points with God when they get extra crazy.

  6. True. I teach 8th, and have had a couple chances to teach 7th, but have luckily skirted it. I see them in the halls... no thanks! Love my 8th graders, usually. Year 8 teaching, 5 in 8th.

  7. I teach 10th and 11th grade. I have to say that a LOT of my 10th graders act like these 7th graders you describe. I'd love to have a psychologist explain why some kids are so completely irrational and so highly emotional.

  8. I love reading your blog because it seems that all your entries are of previous conversations I've had (except the Matilda one, although that would be pretty amazing). This entry especially makes me smile because it could not be more true (as opposed to just being a little true). I teach 6-8 grade girls and find the change they make to be hilarious. All I ever think about now is whether or not I was like this at that age. I was, but that's not the point. Keep up the writing, it helps me procrastinate writing lesson plans. :)

  9. Too funny! I wish I taught where you do. My colleagues and I have determined that being around 8th grade girls is the best form of birth control. Our 7th graders, while still lacking any kind of pre-frontal cortex activity, still see teachers as authority figures, and we can leverage that into some semblance of order. 8th graders won't even make eye contact with you in the hallway.

  10. This is hilarious! I am a veteran of 7th grade—14 years—and I have to say I miss them a lot. This year I'm teaching mostly 6th, and while there ain't an evil hair on any of their heads YET, the twitching restlessness of these little ones on the verge rattles the windows and sends the tables migrating from the vibrations of their uncontrollable energy! I have also been stymied this year by the 6th grade deflection mechanism that seems to be a precursor to the 7th grade versions: "Did you push him?" "He stabbed me with a pencil!" (Of course leaving out that it was some provocation on the pusher's part that started this war 6 hours ago in the breakfast line!)

  11. Love the post! Spot on and so smart.

  12. Actually i dont exactly know what school you guys are talking about i am a current 7th grader and to just say that all the sixth seventh and eighth graders act the same we were once all put in a room together and we all caused so much trouble (don't do that they learned theyre lessons) but yea we all hang out w eachother all the sixth seventh and eighth graders. So please stop trying to blame it all in us seventh graders.

    To first be wise and old
    You first need to be young and stipid
    -my quote

  13. Very true! 14 year olds tend to be MUCH more mature. I do disagree on the 6th graders- they have gotten so much more mature! My sister taught 6-8th grade, but those 6th-7th graders are just to immature! 12-13...most difficult age to handle.

  14. Interesting blog. I just came across this while I was doing a search about 7th and 8th graders. I have always said that something happens in the 7th grade and then in the 8th grade, they are back to normal beings. I have taught 7th grade and 8th grade for 6 years. I always say that 7th graders are these beasts and then they go on to the 8th grade. I can honestly say there is a difference because I teach in a small school and when the kids move on to the 8th grade, I'm their 8th grade teacher. There is definitely a difference between the two years! I laughed so hard reading about how they will never admit to anything. A colleague and I were just talking about how you can see their mouth moving, hear their voice, see them looking at someone, and I'll say, "Stop talking." The 7th grader will respond with, "I wasn't talking, I was telling him something." That comment alone shows there is something unique about 7th graders because in the world I know, when I tell someone, I'm usually talking while I'm doing it! Great blog - thanks for the insight!

  15. Twenty-three years ago I transferred from teaching juniors and seniors to 7th grade. Talk about culture shock! Since then, I have taught 7th graders the social sciences-specifically World Geography and often they ask, when will we talk about history? Every word discussed on this blog is so true with one exception, societal expectations. I taught several of my current students' parents in 7th grade World Geography. The amygdala vs. frontal lobe battle continues, with a greater number of students acting out while experiencing fewer to no consequences. I tell students, “All I had to do was threaten your dad with a phone call home and the problem was solved. Now a student will open their phone and say, “Call my dad, he will straighten you out.” Wow! This is not to say we had no problems, but they were fewer in number and there were consequences (before NCLB). In the 1990’s some children were diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, now it is the norm, coupled with many other diagnoses. How often I hear, “He can’t help himself and it is not his fault.” Put a class of 30-35, 7th graders in a room, 5-10 with ADHA, 1-2 with Asperger’s, add an OCD or Oppositional Defiant student, some low skilled students sitting beside high skills-what is the outcome? These medical conditions are serious but instead of teaching coping skills for success we must ignore the behavior. The lack of personal expectations for the student’s work ethic, skill growth, problem solving, and ability to persevere, scares me more than anything. Pruning I can handle, the frontal lobe discovery I can handle, but placing all expectations for student success on me alone is a burden that Tennessee politicians, administrators, and parents have set. Talk about not using the frontal lobe!

  16. Love this! Thank you! I taught 6th for nine years, 7th for seven and am now back to 6th. I miss the 7th graders!! They worked hard, responded to kindness and I found I was able to reason with (most) of them. My rule of thumb was to always make eye contact with them. Even if I was just distributing papers. It matters to them. They want to know they matter and are looked upon as individuals. Ask the girls about their friends and family (how they spend their free time-this defines them as individuals). Boys don't like to talk about their personal time, it is too awkward for them at first. Ask them about sports they play, teams they like. (Boys and girls really are wired differently!)This age causes them to experiment with push/pull from their nurturers. Seventh graders just need to know that you WILL be there if they need you. Most of the time that is all they need. They depend on security and reliability. Sixth graders? Ouch. So very immature. I can't beieve I'm hearing, "Teacher, she's looking at me!" That is harder to rationalize! :)

  17. I don't know where you all teach but with my experience it is the 8th graders that go through this. Seventh grade is a wonderful grade. The 8th graders I have I would really like to just throw the book at most of them. The excuses "it wasn't me" and I didn't do it" are famous for every single 8th grader. Our 7th graders are always wonderful.

    1. Probably depends where you teach. I was 13 in the 8th grade in California, and was a relatively normal age for that grade. States have different cut-off dates.

  18. I must have a very immature group of grade 8's. I think your comments are over generalized, unless you teach in some idealistic school where kids are all the same.

    1. I teach in a Title I public school, 93% economically disadvantaged, not a magnet or charter school. Maybe you should find another grade to teach!

  19. Oh no! I accepted a one year special contract to teach 7th grade. I am a laid off teacher that had taught 4th & 5th grade, but wants to teach middle school. Yes, you read that correctly - WANTS to teach Middle School. I hope I don't regret it now. I subbed in a lot of Middle & High Schools last year, so I felt ready to say "yes" when the option came up...but now I wonder...tell me something good about 7th grade...and what shall I do about discipline????

  20. Okay I am currently in 7th grade and kind of hate it, probably for the reasons you stated (I really hope I'm not like that) but my classmates are immature and the girls are so fake and drama obbessed, it's infuriating. Everyone (the guys especially) thInk they're hilarious, when they're not. I don't understand how teachers put up with us...... You guys honestly dont get paid enough

  21. I'm stuck in the 7th grade, I fear my friends and I are the only ones that have started developing front lobes. help me.

  22. Everything you said about 7th graders, I find in my 8th graders. It is true that 7th grade is not as sweet and still trying to please like 6th graders, but I find the big difference at 8th grade. It's frustrating and I will likely stop teaching k-8 just because I dread the disrespectful and low work production of so many in the 8th grade.


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