Teacher Preparation

Middle School Group Urges Focused Teacher Training

By Michelle Galley — November 12, 2003 2 min read
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Middle school educators need a better handle on how to target their teaching to young adolescents, according to a revised position paper unveiled last week.

Order “This We Believe” for $6.40 from the National Middle Schools Association. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

While teachers planning to enter elementary schools or high schools are required to take preparation courses that specifically address the development of their would-be charges, middle school teacher-candidates are often lumped in with other grades, the paper from the National Middle Schools Association observes.

“We haven’t gotten targeted and focused on what is unique about teaching at the middle,” said Sue Swaim, the executive director of the association, which is based in Westerville, Ohio.

For example, a teacher-candidate who wants to go into middle school may be put in a preparation program geared to grades K-8 or 7-12, Ms. Swaim said. (“An Incomplete Education,” Oct. 4, 2000.)

The document, “This We Believe,” consists of an updated list of 14 points the group has deemed essential for fostering a high-quality middle school, and it comes at a time when many observers say middle schools are in desperate need of improvement.

“We’ve got to focus on this,” Ms. Swaim said, “with an urgency that we’ve never done before.”

The association’s recommendations were first made in 1982, but because middle schools are constantly facing new challenges, the statement needs to updated periodically, Ms. Swaim said.

A new element added in this round of revisions specifically addresses the need for high-caliber leaders in middle schools.

Such components are now backed up by recent research conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, according to Deborah A. Kasak, the executive director of the Newton, Mass.-based National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform.

“There is a good correlation,” she said, between the implementation of the kinds of practices found in the position paper and an increase in student achievement.

Not Magic

To be successful, middle schools must implement all the recommendations, not simply pick and choose, Ms. Swaim said.

“If you treat it like a checklist, we’re not going to get where we want to be,” she said. “There is no magic button.”

Components of a well-regarded middle school, according to the middle school association, are:

  • Educators who value working with young adolescents and are prepared to do so;
  • Courageous, collaborative leadership;
  • A shared vision that guides decisions;
  • An inviting, supportive, and safe environment;
  • High expectations for every member of the learning community;
  • Students and teachers engaged in active learning;
  • An adult advocate for every student;
  • School-initiated family and community partnerships;
  • Curriculum that is relevant, challenging, integrative, and exploratory;
  • Multiple learning and teaching approaches that respond to diversity within the student population;
  • Assessment and evaluation programs that promote high-quality learning;
  • Organizational structures that support meaningful relationships and learning;
  • Schoolwide efforts and policies that foster health, wellness, and safety; and
  • Multifaceted guidance and support services.

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