Academic journal article Middle School Journal

A New Professionalism in Middle Level Teacher Preparation: Toward a Signature Pedagogy

Academic journal article Middle School Journal

A New Professionalism in Middle Level Teacher Preparation: Toward a Signature Pedagogy

Article excerpt

An analysis of an effective middle level teacher preparation program reveals signature pedagogies.

The John H. Lounsbury College of Education (JHL COE) at Georgia College (GC) is located in a state well known as a national leader in middle level education; and within the JHL COE is a middle grades program that has been preparing teachers to teach young adolescents for more than 30 years-a claim few programs in the country can make. In 1996, the JHL COE made the transition to an innovative field-based teacher preparation program in which candidates are guided by a knowledgeable "mentor leader." According to the JHL COE's conceptual framework, the goal is to produce teachers who will be "architects of change"- prepared to take a leadership role in the community and possessing the skills to collaborate with others to meet the needs of students in the 21st century.

A successful program

Since that transition, the middle grades faculty has worked diligently to ensure that program graduates are highly-qualified middle grades teachers. Through specialized professional development, application of findings from program and self-evaluations, and extensive collaboration we have developed a distinctive program through which graduates become exemplary middle grades educators. For example, 98% of the teacher candidates pass our state's certification test on their first attempt, principals have rated 91% of our beginning teachers as "good" or "excellent' on performing their teaching duties (JHL COE Survey), and graduates of the middle grades education program remain in the profession at unparalleled rates (JHL School of Education Retention Study, 2006). In addition, our graduates often elect to return to graduate school to complete master's, specialist, and doctoral programs; assume leadership roles in their schools; and achieve recognition for their excellent teaching. In the last three years, 14 graduates have been selected for school-level teacher of the year awards, and three were honored for such awards at the system level.

These data underscore noteworthy achievements of our graduates, yet recurring observation persuades us that our graduates' impact is more extensive than even these measures suggest. The number of graduates from this program who embody and enact the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of professional middle grades educators and who have embraced the specialized professional preparation to teach young adolescents, as endorsed by the Association of Middle Level Education (AMLE) is noteworthy (National Middle School Association [NMSA], 2006) and has led us to reflect upon what our program instills in teacher candidates that explains this intensive impact.

The middle grades education model at GC

The middle grades education program is a two-year, field-intensive curriculum managed through a cohort model. Each cohort of teacher candidates is directed by one mentor leader who is responsible for shepherding them through all facets of a complex developmental process. Within the program, faculty are able to model middle grades structures and practices such as advisory, integrated curriculum, looping, teaming, and advocacy; this modeling helps candidates develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they will need to collaborate and work as successful middle grades team members. Using a "middle school model" in higher education to prepare future middle grades teachers seems like a natural fit, but enacting middle grades pedagogy matters as well. How might the structures and practices that define effective schools for young adolescents work in concert with current findings about teacher development to reliably produce exemplary professional middle grades educators? This is the question that drives our inquiry into a "new professionalism" (Lieberman & Pointer Mace, 2008) for middle grades teachers and a search for "signature pedagogies."

Theoretical framework

Shulman (2005) and others associated with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching have developed the concept of "signature pedagogies" to describe the fundamental means by which practitioners are prepared in various fields: medicine, law, engineering, and the clergy. …

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