What is Middle School?
Middle school is a comparatively recently development in the history of education in the United States. The boundaries of middle school are vague and models vary from district to district. However, the overarching goal of middle school is universal: to bridge the gap between elementary
and high school
, and ease the transition of young students into adolescence. Not all school districts have middle schools --- in fact, of the over 97,000 public schools
in the country, only around13,100 are middle schools
. Some school districts structure their elementary schools to go through the eighth grade and very few have high schools that begin in sixth or seventh grade. However, the Association for Middle Level Education
has researched the benefit of having these “middle grades” separated to ease the transition to high school
Middle schools most commonly consist of sixth, seventh and eighth grades and combine elements from both elementary school and high school. In middle school, teachers of different academic subjects often work as a team with the same group of students. Each teacher instructs on their own subject, though there is close interaction between teachers to foster a sense of community and togetherness.
Teaching in Middle Schools
The middle school curriculum
can be approached from different angles. Overall, the different approaches to teaching middle school students all try to integrate elements of both elementary school and high school. Academic subjects begin to evolve into the “separate subject model” of high school, where each subject becomes its own discipline taught by a teacher who specializes in that field. However, subjects aren’t completely separated in middle school. Rather, classes are usually centered around themes that tie subjects together so they are not as generalized as in elementary school, but not as segregated as in high school. In high school there is no “math”: there is algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, etc. In elementary school, “math” contains general lessons on basic mathematical functions. However, in middle school, a math class can have distinct lesson units dedicated to specific topics and taught by one teacher. Unlike high school teachers, middle school teachers generally are not required to major in the subject they wish to teach.
Teaching students of this age also feels somewhat like both elementary school and high school. Middle school students are at a crucial point in their development, just entering adolescence. You encounter them between 11 and 14 years old, important ages when things begin to change, both inside and around them. These changes may seem unrelated to their education, but in actuality, most students bring these feelings and issues to the classroom, so you should know how to respond.
Becoming a Middle School Teacher
Every state has its own requirements for becoming a teacher
, though all states mandate that teachers fulfill some basic educational requirements
. Still, it’s important to check with your state to see what they require. You can find an outline of your state’s requirements on our state pages
All public school teachers must have a Bachelor’s degree at the very least. Many middle school teachers major in the subject they want to teach, though if you’re teaching middle school you may end up teaching several related subjects. Also, as suggested by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform
, it helps to have a background in adolescent psychology. You can establish this background through a major or minor, or by taking several classes. Also, some states require a second major or minor in education. A Bachelor of Arts in Middle Grades Education is a good option for aspiring teachers because it combines both aspects of education and adolescent psychology. Though Master’s degrees are generally not required, teachers with a Master’s degree
have a greater chance for promotions and a potential increase in salary
All public school teachers must also be licensed to teach in their state. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education
(NCATE) and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC)
offer accreditation to exemplary teacher education programs that train aspiring teachers in pedagogy, teaching methods and educational technologies. Many of these programs also incorporate actual classroom experience into their curricula, placing you in a student teaching position for hands-on experience with a licensed teacher. Many states require licenses to be obtained through programs that are accredited by those organizations. You can enroll in a teacher education program
after you’ve graduated, or you can enroll in an education program at your college or university if it is accredited by NCATE as a school of education
. In addition to licensure, many organizations offer teacher certification
in certain subjects or grade levels for teachers who want to demonstrate even more knowledge and proficiency. There are 46 states that offer middle school teacher certification, and of those, only 24 require it. All teachers must also pass standardized tests to demonstrate their capabilities.
Jobs for Middle School Teachers
The Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2010-2011 projects teacher employment to rise by 13 percent between 2008 and 2018. The salary for middle school teachers varies by location, level of experience, education, and certification, but the OOH estimates that the average salary is $54,880
The demand for teachers is higher than ever as student enrollment increases and schools work to attract and retain talented, devoted teachers. The job market is expanding, and new jobs are opening up at all levels of education. When it comes to middle school, however, a strange paradox arises. Because so many public school districts incorporate the middle grades into elementary school, it would initially appear that there are not as many jobs available for middle school teachers. But that’s not necessarily true, and before being dissuaded from teaching middle school, there are two factors you should consider.
Independent of the issues facing high needs schools, middle schools have more difficulty retaining teachers. Dealing with adolescents at this age can be stressful, and many teachers who aren't qualified or prepared to handle the issues often move on to other jobs, thus creating job vacancies. Keep this in mind when deciding to work with middle school students. Ask yourself: Do you have what it takes? If you do, and you’re truly dedicated to making a difference in the lives of adolescents, then you may be one of the many teachers who are able to remain committed to their students.
Secondly, just because a school district doesn’t have middle school doesn’t mean it skips over the middle grades entirely. Being certified as a middle school teacher can make you very appealing to elementary schools who need more teachers for their sixth, seventh and eighth grade students. The same is true of private schools, very few of which are exclusively dedicated to the middle grades. It’s very hard to find a private middle school, but private schools in general (of which there are33,700
) still need to accommodate the middle grades.
No matter where you want to work, if you’re looking to teach these grade specifically, the jobs are still there. Don’t be dissuaded just because the place where you want to teach does not have “middle school.”