While the middle school movement has gained legitimacy in recent years, attracting preservice teachers to the middle levels remains challenging. Essentially, attracting middle level preservice teachers is analogous to catching minnows in a bucket. As university faculty attempt to bait students into teaching young adolescents, grades 4-8, university students respond instinctively by swimming to the proverbial edges of the education bucket--to the pursuit of EC-4 or secondary certification. Albeit metaphoric, this minnow-like action of university students has invited academic inquiry and publication. Unfortunately, these attempts to educate university students, as well as the public, about the nature of middle school students and the philosophy of middle level education also have proven to be a challenge. Research studies (Jackson & Davis, 2000; National Forum, 2002; National Middle School Association [NMSA], 2003) assert that middle level instruction is a separate entity unto itself and thus needs a specialization area that concentrates on the best practices for the middle level student.
New State Certifications
Faculty at universities throughout Texas recently implemented middle level certification for the purpose of meeting the state's new tri-level certification. The Texas State Board of Educator Certification's (SBEC) move to three certification levels--PK-4, 4-8, and 8-12--presents additional challenges for the preservice candidate now interested in teaching at the middle level. In the past, students who were interested in subject area specialization could major in a specific area of interest, minor in education, and then become certified to teach at the secondary level (6-12). This worked well for both preservice candidates and district personnel offices as a "one-size-fits-all" certification, which filled needed vacancies. The problem with teacher preparation programs that respond to this certification, however, is that middle level teaching strategies specific to adolescents are subjugated to high school teaching methods or are frequently overlooked entirely. This lends further credence to the assumption that middle level teaching often has served as a stepping-stone for high school teaching positions.
Prior to the development of this middle level certification program, university faculty sought local principal input; aligned course syllabi with program standards for middle level teacher preparation (NMSA, 2001); researched the UTeach Program (1997) at the University of Texas in Austin, which seeks to increase the number and diversity of students seeking teacher certification; and participated in discussions with state and national leaders in the field of middle school education. As a result, the importance of early field experiences came to be seen as a unifying common theme.
I ... recently changed my major at the beginning of this year and I still was not too sure whether I really wanted to teach. At first, the only motivation to teach was the fact that I could have holidays and summers off with my daughter when she is in school. But now I really want to teach. Not just for the time off in the summer but for the feeling of satisfaction that I will achieve while helping kids be better citizens. I have learned that I am capable of guiding other people along. And there is always room for an individual to improve and I believe that these children will open my eyes to new ideas. I never knew I would enjoy being around middle school children either. I went into college saying that I would never set foot into a junior high school and teach. I always thought the children were too hard to handle. Now that is the only grade I want to teach. I cannot wait to begin teaching.
--Allison, college sophomore, member of the Exploring Teaching class
Candidates make career decisions after working with middle school students in supportive environments. This field …