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Not Everyone Can Do It!

Found in: Classroom Management

Not everyone understands how young adolescents think. Not everyone realizes that they are constantly changing mentally, physically, socially, and emotionally. It is essential that these students have teachers who understand them, accept them, and know how to teach them.

So who are the teachers that are equipped and ready to teach middle school students? For starters, they are teachers who have had appropriate preparation at a good school, who can meet performance-based standards, and who can demonstrate in an interview their background knowledge and their understanding of the age group.

Preparation of Middle School Teachers

I have always been interested in the preparation of middle school teachers. In years past, I supervised student teachers in middle schools. Today I serve on the Consortium for Middle Level Teacher Preparation, a committee with representatives from every higher education teacher preparation program in Oregon.

My experience is that more teachers are coming to middle school specifically prepared to teach in middle schools. They are coming from teacher education programs that have a middle school component. This is good news!

In addition, more and more states are requiring middle school licensure and certification. In fact, having middle school preparation programs in teacher education programs should be desirable for every state, if not mandatory.

Performance-Based Standards for Teacher Preparation

National Middle School Association (NMSA) has developed a thorough document that identifies performance-based standards for initial middle level teacher preparation and master's level teacher preparation (see references below forNMSA Standards on Middle Level Teacher Preparation 2002).

According to NMSA, an appropriately prepared middle school teacher candidate must meet standards in the following areas for initial preparation:

  • Young adolescent development
  • Middle level philosophy and school organization
  • Middle level curriculum and assessment
  • Middle level teaching fields
  • Middle level instruction and assessment
  • Family and community involvement
  • Middle level professional roles

Interviewing Middle School Teachers

I have worked with countless new and veteran teachers in middle schools, but I also have interviewed -- as a principal, middle school district director, and personnel director -- hundreds of teacher applicants for middle school positions.

What I look for is a teacher who --

  • Brings to the school good instincts and a thorough preparation in curriculum, assessment, and variety of teaching strategies and extensive knowledge of students.
  • Understands the changes taking place in young adolescents and accepts those changes as wonderful events and the students as fun human beings.
  • Brings an unfailing willingness to work with all available support groups and parents to help the middle level learner.

I ask several questions to help determine whether a person has the appropriate background knowledge to be a middle school teacher. Here is a pool of questions I draw from:

  • Describe early adolescence and include several specific changes that the age group experiences.
  • Describe a lesson you have planned that includes multiple activities and approaches and strategies.
  • Define heterogeneous and homogenous learning and tell how and when you would use each, if at all.
  • How you would form and work in an interdisciplinary team. Give an example of a team-planned unit you have used or planned or thought about using.
  • Define empathy and tell how it applies to you and your students.
  • How do you individualize?
  • Cite a lesson you have used (or thought about using) and describe how hardware and software enhance your ability as a teacher. And enhance student learning?
  • Describe a piece of software that would help bring a lesson to life, beyond the classroom walls or textbooks.
  • Is your teaching aligned with the Oregon Standards? What does aligned mean to you?

Preparation in four key areas can build middle level expertise and provide a firm knowledge base for the kinds of teachers we want working in our middle school classrooms.

  1. Change and development
  2. Brain growth
  3. Instructional strategies and assessment
  4. Family involvement

In interviews, we need to ask the "right" questions to help us determine if our applicants are ones that we want teaching our middle school children. If middle school teachers are well prepared, student learning and developing and growing will continue -- not in spite of the students and who they are, but because of them.


National Middle School Association. 2002. NMSA Standards on Middle Level Teacher Preparation -- This document provides standards for teacher preparation, approved by NCATE, with a matrix for programmatic and performance-based standards for initial, masters, and doctorate levels.
The Consortium for Middle Level Education in Oregon, Micki Caskey (Portland State University, e-mail and Maureen Musser (Willamette University, e-mail co-chairs.

Other Articles by Pete Lorain

» Brain Development in Young Adolescents -- Good news for middle school teachers.

» Can't Stop Talking -- Social needs of students in the middle.

» Squirming Comes Naturally to Middle School Students -- Physical changes trigger behavioral changes.

Pete Lorain, author of articles on middle schooling and other education issues, currently works under private contract. Prior to retirement, he served as a high school teacher, counselor, and administrator; middle school principal and director at the district level; director of human resources; and president of National Middle School Association from 1996 to 1997.



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