Some specialized training for middle school teachers can be very useful, as middle school presents a unique set of challenges with students evolving from childhood to adulthood. Middle school teachers spend an inordinate amount of time putting out fires and getting the class to settle down due the increased emotions and more frequent outbursts of pubescent teenagers.
What should a middle school teacher do when a student asks if he or she is gay or calls them fat? One sharp-witted middle school teacher turned the name-calling into an impromptu vocabulary lesson one a student referred to her as a “fat lady.” The teacher quickly turned around and informed the startled student that she was in fact voluptuous and proceeded to define the term which turned a potentially chaotic situation into a learning experience.
Unfortunately not all middle school teachers are so well equipped to handle the trials and tribulations of teaching middle school. Many teachers were taught how to be elementary school generalists or high school specialists in a certain subject but ended up teaching middle school as those were the only teaching jobs available. The challenge is that these teachers often have little understanding of young adolescent psychology much less how to handle a classroom full of them.
Teaching middle school is so challenging that there is high turnover, particularly in large cities. The New York City school system, the nation’s largest, reports that while middle school teachers account for 17 percent of teachers overall, they account for 22 percent of the turnover rate.
And in Philadelphia, statistics reveal that over one-third of new middle school teachers did not return to teach the next year compared to one-fifth of elementary school teachers and about one-fourth of high-school teachers.
One of the challenges in middle school is the wide range of student abilities. Elementary schools move at a slower pace where the slower students can only fall so far behind and high schools offer more elective classes for students to choose classes they enjoy. In addition, there is a wider range of classes designed for students of different abilities ranging from remedial classes to honors classes. Finally, by high school many of the “problem” students have dropped out of school or skip class so frequently that high school teachers are not faced with anywhere near the level of difficulty in controlling classes as middle school teachers may be.
One school administrator says middle-school teachers are a bit like the forgotten middle child in that colleges are preparing teachers for elementary classrooms and high schools, but doing an inadequate job of preparing teachers to handle middle school assignments. As an example, 46 states offer some type of credentials specifically for middle school teachers, but only 24 states require that the teachers actually have the credentials before teaching middle school.
Some of the possible solutions under consideration are specialized middle school teacher training and certification, higher salaries (particularly in inner cities), and having middle school teachers teach multiple subjects to the same students to encourage better student-teacher relationships.