Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

IN SEARCH OF THE MIDDLE SCHOOL TEACHER: Navigating Research, Reality, and Mission

Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

IN SEARCH OF THE MIDDLE SCHOOL TEACHER: Navigating Research, Reality, and Mission

Article excerpt

The Middle Level Program at California State University San Marcos is the only middle level teacher credential program in the state of California. The program is based on a set of goals and philosophy of middle grades education, recognizing the developmental needs of young adolescents in Grades 5 through 9, and the socially equitable experience of the whole student in pursuit of academic excellence. In this article we discuss the California credentialing policies and realities that significantly influence our practices. We also describe our program and 3 vital tools we use to navigate these realities and challenges. Indeed, our program is founded upon the theoretical framework and principles embedded in these tools, and they have helped us get through tough times and confront challenges. We are able to maintain the integrity of the program and continue to collaboratively prepare thoughtful educators and advance professional practices.

Middle school teacher education is situated in a nexus of research, realities of state policies and adolescent needs, and institutional values. Each of these elements and the interactions among them provide a field of possibilities where particular practices and principles are fruitful for effectively preparing preservice teachers to teach young adolescents. However, while these elements can support and inform each other, they are not always well aligned in terms of their philosophical expectancies as to what makes a good middle school teacher. In fact, at times, they represent competing philosophies. Therefore, teacher educators find it necessary to navigate policy mandates, reality, and institutional mission to provide the best possible learning experience for preservice middle school teachers.

The Middle Level Teacher Education Program at California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) is the only teacher preparation program in the state of California geared specifically for teachers of young adolescents. The program is based on a set of goals and phiRong-Ji losophy of middle grades education, recognizing the developmental needs of students in grades five through nine. A key belief pertains to cultural characteristics for successful middle schools, including a challenging, exploratory, integrative, and relevant curriculum; educators who value young adolescents and are well-prepared to teach them; organizational structures that foster purposeful learning and meaningful relationships; and an inviting, safe, inclusive, and supportive school environment (National Middle School Association, 2010b).

In this article, we first present the theoretical framework underlying the design of our Middle Level Teacher Education Program and our practices in coursework and clinical practice. To help readers understand the California context of middle level teacher education, we discuss the complexity in credentialing of California middle grade teachers and other realities and challenges. We then turn to a description of our program and highlight three tools we use to navigate the nexus of realities and challenges and continue to produce quality middle grade teachers. The theoretical framework is integrated in all aspects of our program.

OUR THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

The principles upon which our program was founded 20 years ago are still operational today. At CSUSM, the middle level and teacher education reform movements in the context of our local schools informed the development of our middle level teacher education program. These reform movements, along with multicultural education and research on teacher education provide the theoretical framework that has withstood the winds of change, while also allowing us the flexibility to evolve as necessary.

Middle level reform has been guided by scholarly research and the principles outlined in a number of private and government sponsored documents. The late 1980s publication of Caught in the Middle: Educational Reform for Young Adolescents in California Public Schools (Middle Grade Task Force, 1987) and Turning Points: Preparing American Youth for the 21st Century (Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1989) set the agenda for middle level reform. …

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