Professional Preparation and Credentialing of Middle Level Teachers

A position paper of the Association for Middle Level Education

By: AMLE Board of Trustees


The Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) strongly supports the specialized professional preparation and credentialing (i.e., licensure, certification, endorsement) of middle grades teachers at both the preservice and graduate levels. It is widely understood that one of the most effective ways of improving student learning is to ensure the strong professional preparation of classroom teachers (McCabe, 2004; Rice, 2003)—this is especially true at the middle level where young adolescents experience phenomenal periods of growth and change. States must promote the unique knowledge, dispositions, and skills needed to successfully teach these young adolescents. Demands for specialized professional preparation of middle level teachers first appeared in the literature in 1920 (Briggs, 1920; Koos, 1920), and the calls for specialized preparation have continued in the years since (Alexander & McEwin, 1988; Cook, Howell, & Faulkner, 2016; Curtis, 1972; Eichhorn, 1966; Floyd, 1932; Howell, Faulkner, Cook, Miller, & Thompson, 2016; McEwin, Dickinson, & Smith, 2003, 2004; National Middle School Association [NMSA], 2010; Van Til, Vars, & Lounsbury, 1961).

AMLE also supports the development and availability of middle level teacher credentials that are distinct from elementary and secondary credentials. Credentialing requirements exert tremendous influence on the availability and structure of teacher preparation programs in each state. Having a unique middle level teaching credential increases the likelihood that higher education institutions will develop and offer specialized middle level teacher preparation programs. An increasing number of states have taken steps to ensure that middle level teachers graduate from programs that focus directly and exclusively on the specialized knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to teach young adolescents effectively. These states have established regulations that require middle level teachers to hold a specialized middle level teaching credential, which has resulted in virtually all private and public higher education institutions in those states offering specialized middle level teacher preparation programs (Faulkner et al., 2017; Howell et al., 2018).

AMLE advocates for specialized middle level teacher preparation with attention to essential program elements that ensure success at the middle level. These elements, listed here and described below, are essential to the development and continuation of a strong teaching force at the middle level. Such programs must feature:

  • A deep understanding of young adolescent development;
  • Command of the characteristics essential to middle level philosophy and organization;
  • Knowledge of the subject matter taught;
  • The ability to effectively design and deliver middle level curriculum and assessment using practices most appropriate to young adolescent learners;
  • Emphasis on collaboration;
  • Field experiences and student teaching in schools that exemplify middle level characteristics; and
  • Opportunities to demonstrate professional roles and ethical behaviors.

These program elements are essential to middle level teacher preparation and should be considered in addition to those elements that are common to all education programs (AMLE, 2012).

Essential Program Elements

  • A deep understanding of young adolescent development
    Effective teachers must have a deep understanding of the development, background, language, and special needs of their students (Bransford, Darling-Hammond, & LePage, 2005; Council of Chief State School Officers [CCSSO], 2013). Therefore, successful middle level teachers, at their most fundamental level, must be experts in the physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and moral development and needs of young adolescents (Jackson & Davis, 2000; McEwin, Dickinson, & Smith, 2004; NMSA, 2010). Prospective middle level teachers attain this expertise through formal study of young adolescent development and opportunities to work directly with diverse young adolescent students in a variety of middle level field experiences.

  • Command of the characteristics essential to middle level philosophy and organization
    Grounded in an understanding of adolescent development, middle level schools and programs are different from their counterparts at the elementary and high school levels. These differences frame the philosophical foundations of middle level education and the organizational structure that grows from and supports this philosophy (NMSA, 2010). A comprehensive study of middle level philosophy and organization must be a primary element of middle level teacher preparation programs if they are to engage successfully in middle level programs and practices. Study of middle level philosophy and organization typically includes but is not limited to (a) the origins and development of the junior high and middle schools, (b) effective middle level school organizational features and practices, (c) middle level philosophy, (d) middle level trends and issues, and (e) other information that helps all teachers of young adolescents better understand the rationale for and context of middle level schooling (Jackson & Davis, 2000; McEwin, Dickinson & Smith, 2003, 2004).

  • Knowledge of the subject matter taught
    Effective teachers must have a deep and flexible knowledge of the content areas they teach if they are to make content accessible to their students (CCSSO, 2013; Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation [CAEP], 2013; Darling-Hammond et al., 2005; Grossman, Schoenfeld, & Lee, 2005). AMLE recommends middle level teacher preparation programs require preparation in two academic areas (e.g., mathematics, science, social studies, English language arts), creating a solid academic foundation for effective middle level teaching and promoting curriculum integration across subject areas (Jackson & Davis, 2000; McEwin, Dickinson, & Smith, 2003, 2004). Subject matter knowledge preparation for middle level teachers should be broad and integrative. Prospective middle level teachers should have a thorough academic underpinning of content, content pedagogy, and the connections and interrelationships among the subject matter fields and other areas of knowledge.

  • The ability to effectively design and deliver middle level curriculum and assessment using practices most appropriate to young adolescent learners
    Ensuring that prospective teachers possess a comprehensive understanding of curriculum, instruction, and assessment is a high priority in successful teacher preparation programs (Bransford, Darling-Hammond, & LePage, 2005; CCSSO, 2013). For prospective middle level teachers, this study typically includes an emphasis on middle level curriculum that is discipline specific, relevant, challenging, integrative, interdisciplinary, and exploratory (NMSA, 2010). Middle level teacher candidates should learn about middle level curriculum through both formal study of curriculum and opportunities to work directly with the curriculum in middle level field settings. Emphasis areas in this study of middle level curriculum include but are not limited to (a) studying of past and present theorists of middle level curriculum; (b) learning about different curriculum designs, formats, and propositions; and (c) examining a wide variety of curriculum documents at various levels–national, state, district, school, team, and classroom. Preparation should focus on how different parts of the total school curriculum support and extend learning across diverse populations of young adolescents. To accomplish this, opportunities should be included that place an emphasis on core curriculum, which provides a general education for students. Other aspects of middle level curriculum should also be addressed, for example, the advisory and exploratory areas. Effective middle level teacher preparation programs place a strong emphasis on ensuring middle level teachers learn to plan, teach, and assess student work effectively based on content knowledge and a comprehensive understanding of young adolescent development. Major emphasis should be placed on learning short- and long-term planning techniques that middle level teachers employ in daily lessons, interdisciplinary units and other teaching contexts; a wide variety of teaching strategies and demonstration of the ability to apply these strategies effectively in middle level classroom settings; construction and use of assessment techniques ranging from traditional testing to authentic assessments, portfolios, exhibitions, and open-ended problems; and the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning (Jackson, & Davis, 2000; NMSA, 2010).

  • Emphasis on collaboration
    All teachers must understand and appreciate that they exist within a complex web of relationships with responsibilities and obligations (CCSSO, 2013); therefore, middle level teachers must be able to successfully collaborate with multiple stakeholders—students, colleagues, families, and communities—to advance the education of young adolescents (Jackson & Davis, 2000; NMSA, 2010). A major focus of middle level teacher preparation programs should be to provide opportunities for teacher candidates to experience authentic collaboration so they will realize they do not work in isolation but in conjunction with various constituents. This focus on collaboration should flow from the philosophy and organization of the middle school where all the school's resources are mobilized to support young adolescents and their development. Additionally, middle level teacher preparation programs should demonstrate the value of collaboration by developing mutually beneficial partnerships (American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education [AACTE], 2018; CAEP, 2013; National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education [NCATE] , 2010) with middle schools, allowing school-based educators and university-based teacher educators to work side-by-side to design, implement, supervise, and assess the specialized middle level teacher preparation program.

  • Field experiences and student teaching in schools that exemplify middle level characteristics
    High-quality, early, and ongoing field experiences and a culminating student teaching experience are central to effective teacher preparation (AACTE, 2013; CAEP, 2013; NCATE, 2010). These experiences should be of sufficient depth, breadth, diversity, coherence, and duration with multiple performance-based assessments (CAEP, 2013). Therefore, effective middle level teacher preparation programs must place a high priority on providing and requiring early and continuing field experiences in a middle grades setting (Jackson & Davis, 2000). These experiences should provide a developmental sequence for prospective teachers that increases in complexity and involvement, culminating in an extended student teaching experience in which prospective middle level teachers are functioning as site-based teachers responsible for groups of young adolescents (Jackson & Davis, 2000). Middle level field and student teaching experiences provide a context for learning about young adolescents, their schools, and the most effective ways to teach young adolescents. These experiences provide prospective middle level teachers contact with diverse learners, expand and enrich their developmental knowledge, help them better understand the purposes and organization of middle level schools and programs, and provide them with many opportunities to learn to be more effective teachers through the experiences they encounter.

  • Opportunities to demonstrate professional roles and ethical behaviors
    As members of a professional community, teachers have a responsibility to accept the roles and responsibilities of the profession and discharge their duties in an ethical manner (Bransford, Darling-Hammond, & LePage, 2005; CCSSO, 2013). Middle level teacher preparation programs must provide opportunities for teacher candidates to engage in activities that develop their competence as middle level professionals including reflecting on professional practice; participating in ongoing professional development; engaging with colleagues, parents, and the community; and advocating for middle level students and schools (AMLE, 2012; Jackson & Davis, 2000; NMSA, 2010). Additionally, middle level teacher candidates must have opportunities to demonstrate a positive disposition toward teaching young adolescents and model high standards of ethical behavior (AMLE, 2012; NMSA, 2010).

Concluding Statement

The Association for Middle Level Education strongly supports the specialized professional preparation of middle level teachers at both the preservice and graduate levels. This support is based on the understanding that one of the most effective ways to improve the learning of young adolescents is to improve the professional preparation of their teachers.

Central to this is mandatory middle level teacher credentialing that does not overlap with elementary and secondary requirements. Quality middle level teacher preparation programs are unlikely to be established or maintained in states where no middle level license is required, or even available, for those who successfully complete professional preparation programs. Only when middle level credentials become universally required will young adolescents be assured of having teachers who have received the specialized preparation needed to be highly effective.

In addition, professional preparation programs for prospective and practicing middle level teachers should include opportunities for formal study of the essential program elements described above, as well as provide prospective teachers with opportunities to work in middle school settings that implement middle level philosophy and support it with distinct developmentally responsive organizational structures. A template for such schools might be AMLE’s position paper, This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents (NMSA, 2010) and the Association for Middle Level Education Teacher Preparation Standards (AMLE, 2012).

References

Alexander, W. M., & McEwin, C. K. (1988). Preparing to teach at the middle level. Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association.

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education [AACTE]. (2018). A pivot toward clinical practice, its lexicon, and the renewal of educator preparation: A report of the AACTE clinical practice commission. Retrieved from https://aacte.org/resources/clinical-practice-commission

Association for Middle Level Education [AMLE]. (2012). Association for Middle Level Education Teacher Preparation Standards. Retrieved from http://www.amle.org/AboutAMLE/ProfessionalPreparation
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Bransford, J., Darling-Hammond, L., & LePage, P. (2005). Introduction. In L. Darling-Hammond & J. Bransford (Eds.), Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do (pp. 1-39). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Briggs, T. H. (1920). The junior high school. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Cook, C., Howell, P., & Faulkner, S. (2016). Specialized middle level teacher preparation: Moving from advocacy to actualization. Middle Grades Review, 2(1), Article 2.

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Curtis, T. E. (1972). Preparing teachers for middle and junior high schools. NASSP Bulletin, 56(364), 61-70.

Darling-Hammond, L., Banks, J., Zumwalt, K., Gomez, L., Sherin, M. G., Griesdorn, J., & Finn, L. (2005). Educational goals and purposes: Developing a curricular vision for teaching. In L. Darling-Hammond and J. Bransford (Eds.) Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do (pp. 169-200) San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Eichhorn, D. H. (1966). The middle school. New York: The Center for Applied Research in Education.

Faulkner, S., Cook, C., Thompson, N., Howell, P., Rintamaa, M., & Miller, N. (2017). Mapping the varied terrain of specialized middle level teacher preparation and licensure. Middle School Journal, 48(2), 8-13. doi: 10.1080/00940771.2017.1272911

Floyd, O. R. (1932). The preparation of junior high school teachers. U. S. Office of Education Bulletin 20, Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing Office.

Grossman, P, Schoenfeld, A. & Lee, C. (2005). Teaching subject matter. In L. Darling-Hammond & J. Bransford (Eds.), Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Howell, P., Cook, C., Miller, N., Thompson, N., Faulkner, S., & Rintamaa, M. (2018). The complexities of middle level teacher credentialing: Status report and future directions. Research in Middle Level Education Online, 41(4), 1-12. doi: 10.1080/19404476.2018.1456840

Howell, P., Faulkner, S., Cook, C., Miller, N., & Thompson, N. (2016). Specialized preparation for middle level teachers: A national review of teacher preparation programs. Research in Middle Level Education Online, 39(1), 1-12. doi: 10.1080/19404476.2015.1115322

Jackson, A. W., & Davis, G. A. (2000). Turning points 2000: Educating adolescents in the 21st century. New York: Teachers College Press.

Koos, L. V. (1920). The junior high school. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Howe.

McCabe, M. (2004). Teacher quality. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/context/topics/issuespage.cfm?id=50

McEwin, C. K., Dickinson, T. S., & Smith, T. W. (2003). Middle level teacher preparation: Status, progress, and challenges. In P. G. Andrews and V. A. Anfara (Eds.), Leaders for a movement: Professional preparation and development of middle level teachers and administrators (pp. 3-26). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

McEwin, C. K., Dickinson, T. S., & Smith, T. W. (2004). The role of teacher preparation, licensure, and retention in creating high performing middle schools. In S. Thompson (Ed.), Creating high performing middle schools: A focus on policy issues (pp. 109-129). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education [NCATE]. (2010). Transforming teacher education through clinical practice: A national strategy to prepare effective teachers. Retrieved from http://caepnet.org/~/media/Files/caep/
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National Middle School Association [NMSA]. (2010). This we believe: Keys to educating young adolescents. Columbus, OH: Author.

Rice, J. K. (2003). Teacher quality: Understanding the effectiveness of teacher attributes. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute.

Van Til, W., Vars. G. F., & Lounsbury, J. H. (1961). Modern education for the junior high school years. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company.

Adopted August 2019

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