Teachers in the middle

Middle school is a mess, which makes it hard to hire and retain teachers, writes the New York Times. Many teachers weren’t trained to teach kids just hitting puberty and transfer quickly to elementary or high school. Some are assigned to teach subjects they don’t know very well.

The Education Trust, a Washington-based advocacy group, has asserted that a “scandalously high” number of middle school classes are taught by teachers lacking even a college minor in their assigned subjects.

Around the country, middle school teachers are often trained as elementary school generalists or as high school subject specialists, with little understanding of young adolescent psychology.

After surviving junior high, and then surviving my daughter’s middle school years, I wonder why anyone would associate voluntarily with kids of that age. Some teachers enjoy the challenge. But, apparently, not enough.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. I teach 6th grade at a mddile school in Northern California. I love my 6th graders and a lot of times when people find out I teach 6th grade and say I enjoy it, they question my mental state.

    I think that middle schools are often left out of conversations when it comes to school reform. A lot of emphasis is placed on elementary and high schools, whereas middle schools are the neglected stepchild. For instance, in the school district that I teach in, a few years ago all counselors were removed from middle schools, none were removed from high schools. The rational was that counselors are needed at high schools to help students prepare for life beyond high school.

    However, I feel that a lot of students need extra guidance in middle school so that they are on the right path when they reach high school. Many also need extra emotional support due to the influx of hormones that are kicking in. As much as I try to help the almost 100 students I teach on a daily basis, I am sure that I’m only skimming the surface and also know that I lack the necessary credentials to give some of my students the (mental)help they need.

  2. I taught middle school for 6 years. It definitely has its challenges, but it has some good points as well. For my money, though, I prefer teaching high school!

    I’m not sure about the importance of teaching middle school without the benefit of a major/minor in the subject area, though. Let’s face it, anyone with a modicum of intelligence *should* be able to teach just about any middle school subject. While I, for example, would have no desire to teach grammar or literature, I know more than enough science and history to teach 13-year-olds and would enjoy teaching either one. The content just isn’t that difficult.

    But I taught math, like I do now, because that’s what I have a degree in.

  3. Wayne Martin says:

    From looking at the CA STAR data, most of the students seem to make progress in their test scores until 7th or 8th grade. At that point, the scores tend to peak and start drifting down again. I live in a high performing school district, and this is true also in my district.

    Something is happening in the middle schools that needs fixing.

  4. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Puberty?

  5. “At that point, the scores tend to peak and start drifting down again.”

    Are there examples of schools in the US where this does not happen?

    Does it happen in other countries where there is tracking?

  6. wayne martin says:

    > “At that point, the scores tend to peak and
    > start drifting down again.”

    > Are there examples of schools in the US
    > where this does not happen?

    > Does it happen in other countries where
    > there is tracking?

    I’ve only studied California data in depth. I’ve read that this phenomena is true is the US, but can’t remember off the top of my head where I read that.

    California testing for English is continuous, G.2-G.11. Unfortunately this testing has not been in place long enough to provide continuity for a given cohort, providing something akin to a “longitudinal” tracking.

    Perhaps someone else can add something here?

  7. Well…there are different takes on the data.

    For many years education policy types have talked about a “middle grades slump.”

    I believe it was first identified by Jeanne Chall, and started around 4th grade. (I think I’ve seen articles saying that it shows up later in “high-performing” districts, i.e. high-SES districts.)

    More recently people have taken a closer look at the data and have argued that U.S. kids essentially decline from day one in relation to their international peers, but the gap doesn’t become visible until the middle years.

    Having a child in 7th grade, I vote for both accounts.

    I’m sure our grade school kids aren’t learning as much as their peers in some countries.

    However, the middle school “movement” — and that’s what it was called — was anti-intellectual from the start, and based in the theory of “brain periodization,” which held that middle schoolers shouldn’t be talk serious content because the brain didn’t develop during those years.

    By the time that theory was finally shot down the entire middle school movement had absorbed the idea that middle schoolers can’t learn a great deal.

    So, as Cheri Pierson Yecke says, “the damage had been done.”

    Jay Mathews has said that there are no good middle schools.

    I agree. The weakest link in any school district is invariably the middle school.

  8. The report to look at is Mayhem in the Middle by Cheri Pierson Yecke, at the Fordham Foundation.

    American middle schools have become the places “where academic achievement goes to die.” So says Cheri Yecke, K-12 Education Chancellor of Florida and author of the new Fordham report Mayhem in the Middle: How middle schools have failed America, and how to make them work. Today’s middle schools have succumbed to a concept of “middle schoolism” in which a strong academic curriculum is traded for one that focuses more on emotional and social development, and less on learning the basics. And the achievement data reflects “middle schoolism’s” results. In 1999, U.S. eighth graders scored nine points below average on the TIMSS assessment of math. What’s more, these same eighth graders had outperformed the average by 28 points as fourth graders in 1995! According to Fordham President Chester E. Finn, Jr., “Trying to fix high schools while ignoring middle schools is like bandaging a wound before treating it for infection.”

    Our new middle school principal has no interest in academics or achievement whatsoever.

    Every time parents bring up achievement he counters by saying, “The middle school model teaches the whole child.”

    Our school lobby doesn’t have a single sign of achievement of any kind. No academic achievement, no athletic achievement, no artistic achievement.

    All we have are character ed words scotch-taped all over the windows and a huge display of 6 celebrity parents who had parents who “drank and drugged too much.”

  9. Other countries, I’ve read (can’t cite sources at the moment) don’t have a middle grades slump.

  10. Tracking has nothing to do with it.

    Tracking in our middle school is essentially used to slow kids down as much as possible. It’s the kids in the two accelerated classes who are having the most trouble & whose parents are doing the most reteaching.

  11. Indigo Warrior says:

    Catherine Johnson:

    However, the middle school “movement” — and that’s what it was called — was anti-intellectual from the start, and based in the theory of “brain periodization,” which held that middle schoolers shouldn’t be talk serious content because the brain didn’t develop during those years.

    This is basically the ideology of public schooling itself, especially in the early years (pre-high-school). And if “the brain didn’t develop”, what is the point of any sort of education, including the all-important anti-academic socialization?

    The smell of educational sadism and hypocrisy fills the air. Add to this the fact that serious academics for the students that can handle it was, and is, considered “elitist”. However, kids were encouraged to form their own tribal cliques, and follow their own peer leaders, and fight and bully and wreak havoc in the name of “natural egalitarianism”.

  12. wayne martin says:
  13. The pattern we see in my K-8 District is performance goes steadily upwards until about 4-5 grade, when the uncorrected, unremediated deficiencies from elementary catch up with kids and the big bad starts to happen. Most of our middle schools function as two to three years of extended summer for elementary schools, attempting to close three-, five-, and often seven-year gaps in achievement.

    Statewide in CA, API scores are highest in elementary schools, trend downward in middle schools, and further downward in high school, for reasons that should be fairly obvious. An interesting analysis is to locate a middle school, find its API, find the average API of that school’s feeder elementaries, and note the difference. It’s a somewhat blunt measure, but provides an interesting comparions. [My district: -90, -32, -40, -20, -10, +32. This suggests that the majority of those schools are teaching less effectively given a general equivalent student population (albeit at different points)].

    Middle schools, like high schools are frequently charged with massive academic gap remediation, and lack the knowledge, will, and flexibility to clean up the mess others have created.

  14. Wayne Martin says:

    > Statewide in CA, API scores are highest in elementary schools,
    > trend downward in middle schools, and further downward
    > in high school

    Yes .. the scores at Grade.11 are just about equal to those at Grade.2 in many cases.