Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Enticing Teacher Candidates to the Middle

Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Enticing Teacher Candidates to the Middle

Article excerpt

This We Believe characteristics:

* Educators value young adolescents and are prepared to teach them

* Leaders are committed to and knowledgeable about this age group, educational research, and best practices

Effective middle grades educators make a conscious choice to work with young adolescents and advocate for them. They understand the developmental uniqueness of this age group, the appropriate curriculum, effective learning and assessment strategies, and their importance as models.

Enticing teacher education candidates to the middle

When I started my teacher education program, I viewed myself as a high school English teacher. I imagined that I would graduate from college and land a job teaching high school seniors in an honors English class where we would engage in stimulating conversations about great literature, such as James Joyce, William Shakespeare, and Virginia Woolf. I remained undeterred when I student taught 8th grade English in a local junior high, seeing it as a stepping stone to my high school teaching job. However, my experience working with young adolescents made me appealing to middle grades school administrators, and I accepted my first teaching job as a language arts teacher in grades 7-8. And I loved it-the teaming, the interdisciplinary teaching, the advisory and exploratory programs, and the open, unique middle school students. Today I have enjoyed teaching at a variety of levels of education, but this question continues to plague me: Why didn't I want to teach middle school? Why didn't I see myself as a middle school teacher? I continue to ask that question in my role as an instructor who teaches middle school methods to all of the education majors pursuing teaching as a career at a small, private, Midwestern college. My students generally identify either as elementary or high school teachers, but not as middle school teachers. Why?

This article explores that question, describing the components of a middle grades course required for teacher candidates at all licensure levels, and including student-identified factors that most influence candidates toward or away from middle level teaching.


Since the 1920s, proponents of middle level education have called for educators disposed and uniquely prepared to teach early adolescents in a middle grades setting, even dating back to when the preferred middle grades model was the junior high school (Andrews & Anfara, 2003). In 1969, Vars bemoaned the vacuum of teachers specially prepared for the junior high school: "After 60 years of existence, the junior high school is still largely a 'school without teachers'-that is without teachers prepared specifically to work at this level" (p. 172). Replace "junior high school" with "middle school," and this resounding criticism echoes throughout recent literature, as well, and with good reason. McEwin, Dickinson, and Jenkins (2003) found that only 25% of middle schools studied indicated that their teachers had obtained middle level licensure, reinforcing the fact that many middle level educators teaching early adolescents have not received the specialized training necessary to be effective.


Two seminal documents related to middle school philosophy, This We Believe (National Middle School Association [NMSA], 2010) and Turning Points: Preparing American Youth for the 21st Century (Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1989, 2000), provided a comprehensive overview of the educational needs of early adolescents, identifying characteristics of responsive middle level schools. Embedded in these documents is a rationale for specialized preparation of middle level teachers grounded in knowledge of the developmental qualities of early adolescents.

According to the Association of Middle Level Education (AMLE, n.d.), 45 states offer some form of middle grades licensure. As a result, teaching candidates should be able to attain at least some level of middle grades expertise and identity. …

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