Teaching Middle School

As an adult, you probably don’t have too many problems writing down your thoughts, or comprehending a complex sentence. You’ve also likely been able to quickly calculate how much you need to tip on a bill, or computed what you owed in taxes last year.

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None of these now-normal tasks came naturally, however. You’ve had help along the way – professional teachers and educators who have taught you the tricks, tips, and information you’ve used in everyday life.

Middle school teachers have the unique task of instructing children transitioning into adolescence about the various skills and knowledge required for success later in their educational lives. As middle school teachers, these individuals must help their students to understand the physical and cognitive changes they undergo, all in the context of the various subjects taught in middle school.

Maybe these teachers made such an impact that you, yourself, wish to follow in their footsteps. Before undertaking the task of becoming a middle school teacher, learn about some of the requirements, experiences, and benefits of the career.

What is teaching middle school like?

Middle school teachers typically teach grades six through eight, although certain states and school districts begin middle school curriculum in the fifth grade. Middle school builds upon the subjects started in elementary school, introducing students to more complex topics.

Most middle school teachers teach a few different subjects at once. For example, a middle school math teacher might also teach science class, while an English teacher might also teach social studies. The goal of this setup is to show students how skills and information learned in one class can affect the others.

In order to prepare for the numerous classroom assignments, projects, and lesson plans, middle school teachers typically arrive at school between an hour and an hour and a half before their students. During this preparatory time, teachers will meet with fellow teachers and administrators, discuss changes to curriculum, and prepare their classrooms for students.

As teachers make last-minute changes to lessons, or finish grading papers, students begin to file in for their morning classes. Typically, there are four major academic subjects taught in middle school, in addition to non-academic classes such as physical education, art, and music.

English Language Arts

Middle school English students focus on improving reading and writing abilities by exploring more complex pieces of literature. During middle school, many students first become aware of famous and important authors, and begin to read their major works and contributions to the field of literature.

Teachers focus on exploring these novels and pieces of non-fiction to help facilitate the development of stronger interpretation and literacy skills. During middle school, many students for the first time are using more complex cognitive processes that let them interpret plot, character, and setting.

To help build on this cognitive development, teachers explain how literary elements like voice, point of view, style, tone, and allusions contribute to a narrative. Students come to understand an author’s purpose by analyzing these parts of a story, recognizing whether a piece may be satirical, argumentative, purely fictional, or persuasive.

Students also continue to reinforce their understandings of grammar and English language mechanics, such as sentence types, parts of speech, and phrases and clauses. Using these skills, students expand their writing skills.

Teachers lead students in writing exercises, encouraging creative students to flex their mental muscles. In order to facilitate quality writing, teachers instruct students about the writing process, including pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, publishing, and evaluating. For many students, this may be the first time they’ve put real time and thought into the writing process, so teachers must clearly explain the purposes of drafts and editing.

Teachers who wish to discover new ways of teaching language arts material should consider joining a professional teaching organization. The National Council of Teachers of English provides teachers with resources and activities to successfully teach middle level students proper writing and reading skills.

Features of effective instruction
  • Teachers instruct students through multiple types of lessons
  • The curriculum and instruction guide content of tests
  • Teachers make connections across content to ensure coherence
  • Teachers emphasize strategies for both thinking and doing
  • Teachers organize classrooms to foster group work and collaboration

Source: “Beating the Odds: Teaching Middle and High School Students to Read and Write Well,” American Educational Research Journal. Author: Judith A. Langer

Social Studies

As middle school students begin to develop questions about the political world around them, they’ll want answers as to why certain events happened, or how governments came to be. Social studies teachers focus on providing the answers to these questions in a context that will interest their students.

The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) recommends several different methods of providing stimulating lessons for middle school students.

In “Social Studies in the Middle School,” the NCSS identifies a number of themes central to effectively teaching middle school students. Because students in middle school are undergoing drastic physical and mental change, teachers should help frame social studies classwork to address these changes.

First, the NCSS notes that many middle school students are concerned with their sense of “self.” Teachers must address self-esteem, relations with their peers, and growth and change in the context of history and culture. Teachers can help their students explore these areas by using teaching strategies such as student diaries, letters, independent research, and journals.

By following these strategies, students acquire research and communication skills that help to improve their performance in all school subjects.

Second, course work should revolve around the development of ethics. During middle school, students begin to consider different personal standards and values that will play a role in guiding the development of their political identities.

Teachers should use strategies like role playing, interviews, mock trials, debates, class governance, and case studies to show students how ethics and morality have played a part in history. By exploring these areas, students develop critical thinking skills, and an understanding of the democratic values of the country.

Third, the NCSS recognizes that middle school students wish to become members of society and understand the concept of community. Teachers should use a portion of the class time to speak about school and community service, or ask students to participate in group projects/presentations.

By promoting skills and activities associated with active social participation, teachers hope to increase students’ understanding of how individuals interact with each other in the community, and how that affects a society as a whole.

Lastly, teachers must help students to increase their awareness of global cultures and people, by providing students with learning experiences through guest speakers, exchange programs, cultural projects, and museum field trips.

Students gain a sense of cultural understanding through these strategies, and develop respect for diversity and other countries in the world.

Mathematics

In middle school, many of the mathematical concepts introduced in elementary school are honed and refined to make way for algebraic reasoning.

Middle school students explore more complex math topics, such as using fractions, decimals, and percentages to solve problems. Using their more complete understanding of basic math functions, they also memorize the order of operations, allowing them to complete larger problems involving multiplication, subtraction, addition, and division.

Principles of teaching Math

The National Council of the Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) lists several major principles for middle school mathematics. According to the NCTM, education should improve:

  • Problem solving skills
  • Reasoning skills
  • Communication skills
  • Connections to other complex math topics

By focusing on the principles of mathematics, teachers help students to understand patterns, relations, and functions in math. Students with effective teachers are able to represent and analyze a variety of patterns in the mathematical world using tables, graphs, and symbols.

This practices carries on into more advanced algebraic topics, such as exploring the relationships between mathematical symbols, and how changes in symbols can affect a graph or table. These basic functions of algebra help students transition to more complex math subjects encountered in high school, like trigonometry.

In order to stimulate more individual problem solving, teachers might also require students to present projects or papers about a math concept. For example, teachers might ask students to write reports about an unsolved math concept, such as determining why an odd perfect number couldn’t exist.

Additional ideas for lesson plans and middle school math topics may be found in the NCTM’s Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School

Science

Middle school teachers play a large role in maintaining their students’ interests in the sciences.

Students continue their development of understanding the scientific process in middle school, participating in more lab work and reports. Using investigative skills, students make hypotheses about problems, and check to see if their observances meet those hypotheses.

Additionally, students begin to learn about the basic properties of matter, such as solids, liquids, gases, and also elements, atoms, and compounds. By exploring these concepts, students make connections between matter and how energy affects it, such as thermodynamic changes.

Physics is often introduced to middle school students, where teachers explain mechanics like friction, Newton’s first law, and magnetic forces. These topics help make up the base of future science work in high school.

According to the National Science Teachers Association’s position on middle school science, teachers must accomplish several tasks.

First, teachers must attain a high level of knowledge about how middle school students learn about science. Teachers must harness a student’s natural curiosity about the world, and provide hands-on, inquiry-based science instruction. The NSTA recommends teachers offer lab investigation for 80% of instruction time.

Because some science topics might not seem to pertain to a student’s every day life, teachers must also make every effort possible to relate science topics to the real world. For example, teachers should provide students with field trips, speakers, and local community groups to connect the classroom to the world around them.

Can I get a job?

With the right attitude, experience, contacts, and skills, middle school teachers are still able to find jobs in today’s market.

According to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job openings for middle school teachers are expected to grow by 17% between 2010-20. The largest contributor to this growth will be a declining ratio of students to teachers.

Policy makers and school district leaders understand that students learn best in smaller sized classrooms. To keep this student/teacher ratio down, officials will hire additional teachers to maintain smaller class sizes.

Even as officials will commit to keep class sizes down, student enrollment is predicted to increase during the 2010-20 decade. The number of classes schools provide will need to increase in order to meet this demand, which will contribute to the hiring of more teachers.

Teachers wishing to increase their chances of finding a job should try to remain as flexible as possible during the job hunt. According to the BLS, a significant number of older middle school teachers will retire in the Southeast and the West. Teachers seeking the greatest number of opportunities should be prepared to move out of their comfort zones to find jobs.

Teachers who struggle to find jobs straight out of college might try to build their resumes before seeking full-time employment. When employers see that a teacher has substitute teaching experience, or has worked with children previously in a volunteer setting, that teacher is set apart from the rest of the crowd.

Additionally, teachers should build up their networking skills by joining professional teaching organizations. These organizations host conferences and workshops that help teachers build on existing skills, and introduce them to new topics in education.

Joining an organization like Teach for America is another effective way teachers improve their resumes. Teach for America is considered to be a competitive and elite organization that only accepts the best students. Teachers who show a future employer their previous experience in Teach for America will have a greater chance of obtaining a job.

Hallmarks of effective middle schools
  • Relevant curriculum that causes students to pose and answer questions that are important to them
  • Provide learning and teaching approaches that take diversity into consideration
  • Assessments promote quality learning, taking developmental differences into consideration
  • Classroom organization supports the development of learning relationships
  • School policies create a setting that fosters health and safety
  • Multiple support services to respond to students in need

Source: National Middle School Association

What Salary Can I Expect?

While many teachers don’t enter the career for the monetary gain, teachers still make a competitive salary in today’s economy.

In 2010, middle school teachers earned a median salary of $51,960, according to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest 10 percent of earners made less than $34,990, while the highest 10 percent earned more than $80,940.

Earning a master’s degree in education will provide further increases to salary. Teachers with their master’s degree typically earn between $5,000 and $10,000 more than their coworkers. A master’s degree also qualifies teachers for more leadership positions, possible moving into administration.

How do I become a Middle School Teacher

Even if a potential teacher has the right attitude and skills, they still need to prove these skills before entering a teaching job.

In order to ensure that all teachers have the qualities needed of effective instructors, states require that teachers apply for certification. Certification proves that a teacher has passed all educator standards, and is fully prepared to instruct students.

Every state has different certification standards, but most require teachers to pass a preparation program and earn at least a bachelor’s degree. In a teacher preparation program, teachers gain a deeper understanding of classroom management techniques, curriculum development, and communication skills.

After completing their preparation programs and passing a series of exams, teachers begin to certification process. For more information about the certification process and how it differs from state to state, visit Teaching-Certification.com.

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