ERIC Identifier: ED335356
Publication Date: 1991-00-00
Author: Harnett, Anne Marie
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Teacher Education Washington DC.
Preparation of Middle School Teachers. ERIC Digest 90-1.
Specialists in human development, including educators, agree that early
adolescence is more than a transition from childhood to adolescence and that it
may well be as critical a period as the first two years of life. Early
adolescents, ranging in age from 10 to 14, have special personal, social, and
educational needs that can be met more appropriately in a middle school (grades
6-8) than in the elementary (K-8) or junior high (7-9) arrangement. It is
generally agreed that neither the child-centered atmosphere of the elementary
school nor the subject-centered curriculum of the high school or junior high
school appropriately meets the early adolescent's social or learning needs.
During the 1960s and 1970s the research on middle-level schools and the
specialized teacher preparation they require led many states to recognize the
need for specialized training. In 1978, 15 states had special requirements for
teaching in the middle grades, and 13 others were proposing legislation to
require specialized preparation for these grades (Gillan, 1978). At present,
however, only 14 states require specific credentials for teaching in the middle
grades (Goddard, 1990). Despite the need for middle-level teacher preparation,
the literature on this subject since 1980 is sparse. This situation may be
changing because of the publicity given to the topic by recent reports from such
organizations as the Carnegie Corporation and the National Middle Schools
Association. The Carnegie report (1989) recommended that middle schools be
staffed with teachers who are expert at teaching early adolescents and who have
the education and training necessary for the assignment.
Early adolescence, sometimes called
transescence, was described by Donald H. Eichorn as the "stage of development
which begins prior to the onset of puberty and extends through the early stages
of adolescence" (1966, pp. 3-4). There is some agreement in the literature that
five characteristics and needs set this learner (the transescent) apart from
* The principal element of early adolescent development is unpredictable and
highly variable physical change.
* A period of expansive brain growth occurs between ages 10-12 and a plateau
period is reached between ages 12-14.
* The influence of parents, teachers, and other adults grows less important,
giving way to the persuasive impact of peers.
* The need to develop values and to accept and like themselves.
* The need to learn to understand adults and the adult world, and to develop
meaningful relationships with adults.
Clearly, schools and teachers capable of addressing such specialized needs
are required. Two leaders in the middle school movement, William Alexander and
Paul George (1981), argue that middle schools should be characterized by six
* School guidance systems in which each student has a counselor who knows
him/her well and with whom the student can consult on academic, social, and
* A transitional curriculum which provides for careful articulation and
coordination of learning experiences.
* Daily schedules organized into blocks of instructional time to allow for
interdisciplinary instruction and appropriate learning experiences.
* Use of a variety of instructional strategies that have been demonstrated to
be effective with early adolescents (such as cooperative learning,
interdisciplinary instruction, team teaching).
* A wide range of exploratory courses designed to develop student interests,
and an emphasis on intramural athletics which encourages participation by all
* A core of learning experiences appropriate to early adolescents focused on
learning skills that students will need for future study.
The grades 6-8 middle school arrangement has been found to be more likely to
incorporate these six elements than programs that include grade 6 in the
elementary school and grades 7 and 8 in a junior high school. According to
Alexander (1987), middle schools provide better transition to high school, offer
broader and more flexible programs, and focus on early adolescent needs. An
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) study came to the
same conclusion (Cawelti, 1988). The same study however pointed out that simply
placing grades 5-8 or 6-8 together does not guarantee that the special needs of
these students will be met. For the middle school to be different from the
traditional junior high school, its curriculum and organization must be geared
to serve students in the 10-14 age range.
If teachers are expected to be successful in middle schools, it follows that
some of their training must focus on the characteristics of middle school
programs. Yet, according to a recent study, 61 percent of the 394 schools
surveyed had less than 25 percent of faculty with special preparation in middle
grades education, and only 9 percent had more than 75 percent of their faculty
with middle-level preparation. (Alexander & McEwin, 1989).
MIDDLE-LEVEL TEACHER EDUCATION
Although a knowledge base
specific to middle-level teacher education has not been developed to a degree
where definite conclusions can be drawn, the direction such teacher education
would be advised to take can be discerned from a review of contemporary
It is advisable to include in the teacher education program the following
* Course work and field experiences that are carefully articulated to
eliminate the real or implied dichotomy between theory and practice, (e.g. using
methods in preservice courses that have been successful in middle schools, such
as cooperative learning techniques).
* Cooperating teachers chosen for their effective teaching behaviors and
positive attitudes toward early adolescents, and who will help student teachers
develop positive attitudes toward teaching itself and toward early adolescent
* Courses and experiences that will provide candidates with an understanding
of motivation in early adolescents and enable the candidates to model good
motivation techniques and convey success expectations.
* Emphasis on the importance of productive time rather than the usual "time
on task" and practical demonstration of the connection between productive use of
time and student achievement.
* A curriculum that will provide candidates with an understanding of good
teaching, especially with reference to appropriate teaching practices for middle
schools, and the opportunity to examine the preferred elements of middle school
organization and curriculum (specialized guidance programs, transitional
curricula, block scheduling, interdisciplinary teaching, exploratory courses,
and a core of studies designed to prepare young students for future learning).
* Course work and field experiences that show the relationship between
teacher behavior and student achievement.
* Opportunity for prospective middle-level teachers to learn how to direct
parent involvement in the schools and to plan and conduct parent-teacher
A recent survey (Sparapani, Abel, Edwards, & Herbster, 1991) of junior
high and middle school teachers in four states and four socioeconomic categories
led to conclusions similar to those listed above about the content of
middle-level teacher education programs. The data from this study indicated that
teachers may have knowledge of early adolescent development and of appropriate
instructional strategies, but that some teachers may not fully understand how to
use what they know. This study underscores the need for both school-level
professionals and teacher educators to involve themselves in restructuring
teacher preparation for the middle grades. The literature also indicates that
cooperation is needed between State Departments of Education and teacher
training institutions to ensure adequate preparation and appropriate
certification of middle school teachers.
References identified with an EJ or ED number
have been abstracted and are in the ERIC database (those with an SP number are
being processed for inclusion). Journal articles (EJ) should be available at
most research libraries; documents (ED) are available in ERIC microfiche
collections at more than 700 locations. Documents can also be ordered through
the ERIC Document Reproduction Service: (800) 443-3742. For more information
contact the ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education, One Dupont Circle, NW,
Suite 610, Washington, DC 20036-1186, (202) 293-2450; or (800) USE-ERIC.
Alexander, W. M. (1987). Toward schools in the middle: Progress and problems.
Journal of Curriculum and Supervision, 2(4), 314-29. EJ 355 451
Alexander, W. M., & George, P. S. (1981). The exemplary middle school.
New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Alexander, W. M., & McEwin, K. C. (1989). Schools in the middle: status
and progress. Columbus, OH: National Middle Schools Association.
Carnegie Corporation. (1989). Turning points: Preparing American youth for
the 21st century. The report of the Task Force on Education of Young
Adolescents. New York: Author. ED 312 322
Cawelti, G. (1988, November). ASCD curriculum update. Alexandria, VA:
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Christensen, J., & Tafel, L. (Eds.). Caught in the middle: Teacher
education for the middle level (theme issue). Action in Teacher Education,
11(4). EJ 404 512--EJ 404 520
Eichorn, D. H. (1966). The middle school. New York: The Center for Applied
Research in Education, Inc.
Gillan, R. E. (1978). Teacher preparation and certification for the middle
school grades. Unpublished manuscript. ED 178 463
Goddard, R. E. (1990). Teacher certification requirements in all fifty states
(8th ed). Sebring, FL: Teacher Certification Publications.
Ingram, R. C., & Million, S. K. (1990). "Retooling" for the middle school
experience: Inservice training for junior high school personnel. Unpublished
manuscript. SP 032 829
MacIver, D. J., & Epstein, J. L. (1990, February). Responsive education
in the middle grades: Teacher teams, advisory groups, remedial instruction,
school transition programs, and report card entries (Report No. 46). Baltimore,
MD: Center for Research on Elementary and Middle Schools, The Johns Hopkins
National Association of Secondary School Principals. (1986). An agenda for
excellence at the middle level. Reston, VA: Author.
National Middle School Association. (1986). Professional certification and
preparation for the middle level. Columbus, OH: Author.
Sparapani, E. F., Abel, F. J., Edwards, P., & Herbster, D. (1991,
February). Middle grades teacher preparation: A future focus. Paper presented at
the 71st annual meeting of the Association of Teacher Educators, New Orleans,
LA. SP 032 896