How to Become an Eighth Grade Teacher


Introduction

By eighth grade, students have undergone a significant transformation, and are now the oldest pupils in middle school with their eyes looking towards the increased freedoms associated with high school. Eighth grade teachers naturally play an important role in helping students prepare for high school – both academically, socially and mentally. Educators ensure that students have met the benchmarks for the grade, such as developing the work habits necessary to succeed at the secondary school level. Eighth grade teachers, especially those with a specialization or the ability to teach an in-demand subject area, will encounter a promising job market through 2022.

How can I become an eighth grade teacher? 

Eighth grade teachers typically follow the same path as all other middle school teachers, and are required to hold at least a bachelor’s degree to qualify for a teaching position in a public school. The specific route that a prospective educator takes to gain their teaching credential varies according to their state of residence. For example, most middle school teachers are expected to major in a subject area, such as mathematics or English. Obtaining a state-issued license is also required of all public school teachers in the U.S.shutterstock_212941735

Despite having to fulfill state-specific requirements before accepting a position at a public middle school, educators typically complete the following steps:

  1. Complete an Undergraduate Degree Program: In addition to taking classes required by the major, prospective eighth grade teachers also enroll in a teacher preparation program, where they are introduced to elements of child psychology and complete coursework in education. During their studies, individuals also spend one to two semesters in a student-teacher program, where they are paired with veteran educators who serve as mentors in a real middle school setting. In addition to observing classroom dynamics and participating in basic school activities (such as grading papers), the student learns how to prepare lessons, as well as teach a class.
  1. Pass Exams: Although the Praxis exams serve as a national standard in measuring the knowledge and preparedness of a prospective teacher, some states may require the submission of scores outside of these specific examinations. For example, while the Arkansas Department of Education requires applicants to have passing scores on the Praxis I and II exams in order to obtain an Arkansas teaching license, the state of California expects prospective educators to pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) and California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET).
  1. Obtain a License or Certification to Teach: After graduating from an accredited degree program, eighth grade teachers looking to work within the public school system must apply for licensure or become certified in their state of residence. Although the application process varies by state, most graduates are expected to undergo a criminal background check, submit the appropriate paperwork (such as college transcripts), pass any applicable exams, and pay licensure fees.
  1. Obtain a Master’s Degree: Earning an advanced degree not only expands job opportunities for an eighth grade teacher, but is also a requirement of some states that expect their middle school educators to pursue this type of degree after receiving their certification to teach.
  1. Renew Teaching License: In order to keep a teaching license current, middle school educators are expected to complete professional development requirements, as set by their state. For example, teachers renewing their standard licenses in Iowa are required to complete six continuing education units, as well as possess a certificate verifying the completion of child and dependent adult abuse mandatory reporter training.

What can I expect as an 8th grade teacher?

By eighth grade, middle school students have typically experienced noticeable physical growth, express their individuality more often, and most importantly, begin to discover their future intellectual paths. Teachers deal with the ever-changing bodies and minds of the eighth grade student, who is typically 13 to 14 years old. Boys, who entered middle school at just over four-feet tall, may be nearly two feet taller by the time they graduate. A student once shy and awkward in grade six may show up to the first day of school with facial piercings. Distractions in school become increasingly difficult for students to ignore.

Depending on their place of employment, eighth grade teachers may form groups and work with one another to create lesson plans in the best interest of their students. Referred to as team teaching (or collaborative teaching or co-teaching), these groups are typically comprised of two to four educators across different subject areas.

Academically, the homework, quizzes and tests given to eighth graders have a more profound effect on their grades. At this level of education, teachers work towards strengthening the study skills of their students. The following subjects, themes and activities represent the typical curriculum associated with the eighth grade:

  • Language Arts: Eighth grade teachers often place emphasis on persuasive and expository writing, but also spend time supporting students who are still struggling with basic reading and writing skills. When available, strong readers are placed in an honors class, where they are given assignments related to more challenging texts, such as Shakespearean classics.
  • Mathematics: The curriculum varies greatly across the nation, but teachers primarily introduce their students to more advanced concepts related to geometry and algebra. Those who excel in the subject have the option to take honors classes, when available. 
  • Science: Topics increase in difficulty and intensity, as students continue a hands-on approach towards learning about heredity, reproduction, and adaptation. Scientific experiments take place within the classroom, with lab reports to follow. 
  • Social Studies: Students spend time relating the past to the present in more detail, and often participate in class discussions that take an in-depth look at the American Revolution, early government, immigration, and World Wars One and Two.

Like all middle school teaching positions, being an eighth grade teacher requires a great deal of patience, humor and a high threshold for the unexpected. After all, being thirteen to fourteen years old is often a difficult and exciting time.

Socially, eighth grade students are prone to mood swings, yet still make significant strides in the maturity department. Students at this grade level are still concerned with fitting in with their peers, and may face various conflicts centered on the friendships and relationships they build with others. Kids falling victim to bullying, peer pressure and elicit activities are an escalating concern in many middle schools. As children of this age attempt to assert their independence, eighth grade teachers must be prepared to deal with students constantly pushing their boundaries.

In the eighth grade, more students are also juggling their studies with extracurricular activities, such as playing an instrument, participating in a sport, taking lessons or joining a youth group. Therefore, teachers may see a slip in grades and incomplete homework with those who have poor time-management skills, or simply dealing with too much on their plate.

The work environment for every teacher differs, and often depends on the school and student population. For example, some schools lack the appropriate resources that can make a difference in a student’s ability to learn, such as up-to-date textbooks and computer labs. On occasion, teachers must cope with disrespectful and unmotivated students – making it difficult to gain control over their classroom. In some districts, the pressure of being measured by students’ performance on standardized tests can cause frustration and stress for middle school teachers.

Writing progress reports, grading homework, planning lessons, and holding teacher conferences with parents are all part of the job for an eighth grade teacher. The typical work schedule for a middle school teacher is a traditional 10-month school year with two months off in the summer. Those who work year-round generally opt to teach summer school.

What is the typical compensation and are there benefits? 

In 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) identified the median annual salary for middle school teachers (which included eighth grade educators) as $56,310. Despite employing the greatest number of middle school teachers in the U.S., the state of Texas does not pay the highest overall salaries to 8th grade educators. The top five states paying the most to their middle school teachers (with annual mean wages) in 2014 were the following: New York ($75,470), Connecticut ($71,690), Alaska ($71,040), Massachusetts ($70,020), and New Jersey ($68,410).

A teacher’s salary is also ultimately affected by the cost of living where they reside. For example, K-12 educators in Illinois earn a decent salary, averaging around $59,113 per year. According to the Cost of Living Index, this amount translates more towards making $61,834. The state of Illinois is also known for having one of the highest starting salaries for teachers in the U.S.

Eighth grade teachers may also earn additional compensation by coaching a school sports team; advising an after-school program; and/or teaching summer school classes. With additional credentials and education, a teacher may apply for a higher-paying administrative position. Teachers who work at a private school may receive compensation in the form of room and board, or reduced tuition for their children.

The majority of middle school teachers enjoy robust benefits, which include health and dental plans, and 401(k) contributions.  Additionally, as public service members, some full-time middle school teachers are also eligible for student loan forgiveness after ten years of service in the profession. According to state policies, additional compensation is also available to teachers who accept positions in urban and rural communities. For example, the state of Georgia provides differential pay for eighth grade teachers who accept a job at a high needs school, or teaches a subject area experiencing a shortage.

What is the career outlook for becoming an eighth grade teacher? 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job openings for middle school teachers are expected to grow at a rate of 12 percent, from 2012 to 2022. As a result, an estimated 76,000 additional middle school teaching positions are expected to open up during this time period with a portion of these positions being filled by eighth grade teachers. The escalating need to hire teachers for this grade level is affected by the increasing number of student enrollment across the nation, more teachers reaching the age of retirement, and schools lowering the student-teacher ratio within their classrooms.

Eighth-grade teachers with some of the following qualifications are also able to take advantage of a greater range of job prospects at middle schools:

  • Specialized training, an advanced degree or a background in special education, teaching bi-lingual students, and/or counseling pre-teens.
  • A master’s degree in an education-related field
  • The ability to teach a subject demonstrating the greatest need; for example, the U.S. Department of Education reported that the state of North Carolina experienced a shortage of Special Education and Mathematics teachers for grades 6-8 during the 2015/2016 school year. 

Job opportunities for middle school teachers will also vary on a state-by-state and district basis. For example, school districts with lower budgets are not able to hire the number of new teachers that they need to accommodate their growing student populations. Geographic location also plays a part in new job openings, as student enrollment in the South and West are expected to grow the fastest, while schools in the Northeast may see declining numbers. 

In conclusion, eighth grade teachers are tasked with the responsibility of adequately preparing pre-teens for their transition into secondary school. From strengthening their study habits and organizational skills to adding another layer of knowledge related to primary school subjects, an eighth grade teacher plays an important role in the educational, behavioral, and social development of their students. The skills and knowledge that middle school teachers receive comes from obtaining at least a bachelor’s degree, undergoing the student-teaching experience, and fulfilling the requirements needed to gain a teaching license or certificate in their state of residence.

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