This interpretive, exploratory study utilized survey methodology to document middle level principals' perceptions of effective teaching practices and the preparedness of newly hired middle level teachers. The findings suggest that principals' descriptions of effective teaching differ from their descriptions of effective teachers. Additionally, principals' perceptions of the level of preparation of newly hired teachers indicate a sense of dissatisfaction, acknowledging teachers are prepared in their content knowledge but lack preparation in several key areas, including classroom management, assessment, curriculum and instruction, and culturally and developmentally appropriate practice. As a result, the authors propose a Framework for Effective Middle Level Practices as a conceptual guide for middle level teacher preparation.
In an era of high stakes accountability, the expectation that all students will learn at or above proficient levels requires more skillful teaching by highly trained teachers (DarlingHammond, 2010). The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education's (NCATE) Blue Ribbon Panel Report (2010) on teacher education recognizes the new challenges facing teacher educators as they prepare a workforce for schools that are more ethnically, economically, and linguistically diverse than ever before. With these realities in mind, the NCATE report highlights the importance of the classroom teacher and suggests that "while family and poverty deeply affect student performance, research over the past decade indicates that no in-school intervention has a greater impact on student learning than an effective teacher" (NCATE, 2010, p. 1). While it is well documented within research that the classroom teacher is a critical component to student learning (D'Amico, 2001; Darling-Hammond, 2006; Mehaan, Cowley, Schumacher, Hauser, & Croom, 2003; NCATE, 2010; Zumwalt & Craig, 2005), the burden is no longer shouldered by the teacher alone. In fact, teacher educators and principals must play a more active role in preparing and supporting the development of effective teachers. Understanding how middle level principals describe effective teaching, as well as capturing a snapshot of the level of professional preparation of beginning teachers is critical to providing this support.
Principal leadership and its effect on student achievement have been emphasized over the past 2 decades (Anfara & Brown, 2003; Rice, 2010; Valentine, Maher, Quinne, & Irvin, 1999). For the middle level movement in particular, "no single individual is more important to initiating and sustaining improvement in middle grades school students' performance than the school principal" (Jackson & Davis, 2000, p. 157). The literature on middle level leadership clearly suggests that it is critical for middle level principals to understand the unique nature of middle grades schools (i.e., those schools housing students ages 1114), and the structures and staff that should be in place to create a climate that is developmentally responsive (Arth, Lounsbury, McEwin, & Swaim, 1995; Brown, Anfara, & Gross, 2002; Doda, 2009; Petzko et al., 2002).
Organizations like the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE), formerly known as the National Middle School Association (NMSA), advocate for school leaders to have a deep understanding of the specific needs of the students they serve by recognizing the central role of the building principal in establishing the school culture and direction, including influencing student achievement and teacher effectiveness (NMSA, 2010). With leadership so closely tied to school improvement and change in our middle schools, it is important to consider how these individuals perceive the preparation of teachers entering the workforce. Specifically, it is critical for teacher educators to understand how middle school principals describe effective teaching at the middle level and whether or not their expectations for quality teachers are met. …