How to Become a Middle School Teacher


Introduction

Depending on the district, middle school teachers, also known as junior high school teachers, are charged with the education of students in grades six through eight, and may or may not work in a school that includes the sixth grade. With middle school students undergoing substantial physical and intellectual changes, being a teacher at this level entails more than just delivering a state-mandated curriculum.

Middle school teachers must complete an educational curriculum that equips them with the skills to teach and guide students transitioning into adolescence. Nationwide, schools are seeking qualified educators to help bridge the gap between elementary and high school. Through 2022, job openings are expected to grow in an effort to accommodate increasing student enrollment, as well as address other factors affecting trends in middle school education.

How can I become a middle school teacher?

A bachelor’s degree and some form of state certification are the minimum requirements expected of individuals seeking to become a middle school teacher. However, it is not uncommon to encounter states that require their middle school teachers to earn a master’s degree. Overall, the average time to become a middle school teacher is five to six years.

The educational pathway towards becoming a middle school teacher differs from the requirements expected to work in an elementary or intermediate school. In contrast to elementary school teachers, middle school educators graduate specializing in a specific subject, choosing to focus on one or two subjects, such as Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, English, or foreign languages. In addition to gaining a specialization in a school subject, coursework also touches upon how to understand the psychological, social and intellectual development of children attending middle school, as well as methods that increase their motivation to learn.senior high school teacher teaching in classroom

In contrast to high school teachers, the requirements to claim a subject specialization are generally less demanding. In most cases, high school teachers major in the subject they plan to teach, while middle school teachers can often claim a subject specialization after completing only a few post-secondary courses in the field.

As part of a degree or certification program, prospective middle school teachers must complete a required number of supervised student teaching hours. Under the guidance of a teacher-mentor, individuals gain valuable experience learning how to plan lessons, communicate with students, observe classroom behavior, and teach a class within an authentic school environment.

All middle school teachers in the U.S. public school system are expected to possess a state-issued teaching license or certificate with application processes that vary by state. Middle school licensing usually involves passing three exams associated with testing a prospective teacher’s knowledge on basic skills, specific subject matter, and teaching methods. Teachers must also pass a background check, submit school transcripts, and pay applicable fees to obtain a license. Those hired to work at a private school are not always required to gain licensure.

Prior to or following certification, middle school teachers may also acquire additional qualifications, either in a specific educational field (such as bi-lingual studies or special education) or in their area of expertise, like Mathematics or English.

Middle school teachers in the public school system must also fulfill state-mandated professional development requirements in order to uphold a valid teaching license or certificate. The renewal process varies according to state guidelines. For example, the state of Virginia requires middle school teachers to complete 180 professional development points and Child Abuse Recognition and Intervention Training, amongst other things.

What should I expect as a middle school teacher? 

Middle school teachers are hired to assist students typically aged 11 to 14 years old expand upon the fundamentals learned in elementary school, as well as prepare them to handle the more challenging curriculum taught in high school. In addition to their schoolwork, students in the sixth through eighth grade are also heavily concerned with the social aspects of their environment. Overall, since every child develops at a different pace, middle school teachers must also prepare themselves to work with students at varying stages of development.

School districts vary in their expectations of middle school teachers. Some students learn from a different teacher for every academic subject, while some teachers are tasked to teach more than one subject. Because of this, educators seeking employment often encounter a variety of job opportunities that embrace varied teaching methods and curriculum models, such as:

  • Team teaching (or co-teaching or collaborative teaching). Teams typically comprised of between two and four teachers across subject areas of a specific grade level work together to plan units and lesson plans (often following a shared theme), which aims to provide increased support for students.
  • Vertical teaming. A group of educators representing various grade levels work in unison to increase communication between one another so that students receive assistance in building the academic skills needed to succeed in school. Teachers are better able to identify and set expectations for each grade level, as well as support their fellow educators in meeting goals.

Technology also plays an increasingly significant part in a middle school teacher’s daily responsibilities. Many educators must learn an online system that requires them to post homework, project assignments, progress and behavioral reports for each student. Additional duties include grading papers and homework, as well as participating in after-school activities, such as attending parent-teacher conferences and school assemblies.

Middle school teachers are deeply connected to the social life of their students, meaning one moment they are weathering childish student pranks and schoolwide gossip, while the next is spent coaching the soccer team, chaperoning school dances, and/or monitoring the hallway to ensure proper conduct amongst students.

For many years, psychologists assumed that children’s brains were already fully formed by the age of six, but recent studies suggest that the “tween” brain is still developing. This may explain why middle school students have notoriously short attention spans, are prone to break into hysterical fits of laughter (often for no apparent reason), and can find it difficult to follow basic instructions. The number of unmotivated or disrespectful students in the classroom also increases during the middle school years.

Middle school teachers also face challenges, often intensified by their respective work environments and curriculum demands. For example, some schools have large classes, smaller budgets, and/or lack appropriate teaching tools (such as textbooks and computers). Schools boards may also hold teachers accountable for the scores of their students on standardized tests, which can create stress and frustration amongst educators – especially for those earning performance-based salaries.

Despite the obvious challenges of working with students at this grade level, being a middle school teacher can be tremendously gratifying. Educators at this level have a particularly profound impact on the work habits, social skills, and sense of social and civic responsibility of their students. For people who are patient, good humored and hold a capacity to feel compassion for people at their most awkward age, middle school teaching holds many rewards.

What is the typical compensation and are there benefits? 

In 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the median annual salary for a middle school teacher was $54,940, where depending on location and circumstances, earned a paycheck in excess of $82,190 per year. Although the state of Texas employs the highest number of middle school teachers in the U.S., it does not pay the highest overall salaries to their employees. Instead, the top five highest-paying states (with annual mean wages) for the middle school level in 2014 were the following: New York ($75,470), Connecticut ($71,690), Alaska ($71,040), Massachusetts ($70,020), and New Jersey ($68,410).

Most middle school teachers enjoy some form of extended health benefits, as well as employer retirement contributions. The amount and level of compensation varies according to the place of employment, school district policies, and the strength of teacher unions, who fight on the behalf of educators for fair pay and benefits. Middle school teachers may also earn additional compensation by teaching summer classes; serving as a sports coach or advisor for school activities; and/or earning merit-based bonuses.

Middle school teachers who accept a position in a low-income area often earn bonuses or elevated salaries. For example, Alabama is a state that offers incentives (differential pay) to teachers who are hired to work in a “high needs” school (such as a school located in an urban or rural community), or who are filling a position associated with a shortage subject area, such as a special education teacher.

What is the career outlook for becoming a middle school teacher?

According to U.S. News and World Report, the middle school teacher position is primarily deemed as having a positive job outlook due to higher nationwide student enrollment in schools. Lower student-teacher ratios, as well as more educators reaching the age of retirement also play a role in job growth for the occupation. In addition to other factors, U.S. News and World Report identified middle school teachers as representing the fifth Best Social Services Job. The occupation also ranked #45 on their 100 Best Jobs list.

In 2012, the BLS reported over half a million middle school teachers employed within the United States, and the opportunities are expected to rise. With a projected 12 percent growth rate (slightly higher than the average of all other occupations in the U.S.), an estimated 76,000 additional middle school teaching positions are expected to open up between 2012 and 2022.

A number of dynamics, including regional factors, play an influential role in the availability of jobs for new graduates. For example, the BLS reports enrollment is anticipated to grow fastest in the South and West, whereas schools in the Northeast are projected to experience declines. Additionally, government budgets for schools on the state and local level vary significantly, and may not have enough money to pay for new teaching positions in middle schools.

Depending on the state or school district, some teachers are in more demand than others, and teachers who possess specialized skills and supplementary training generally face a higher chance of qualifying for a greater number of job opportunities. For example, schools are constantly looking for educators qualified for hard-to-fill positions, such as teachers who can accommodate students with special needs.

Every state also experiences their own teacher shortages for specific subjects on the middle school level. For example, the U.S. Department of Education reported that the state of Arizona was in need of middle school teachers for the 2015/2016 school year that qualified to teach the following disciplines: Mathematics, General Science, Visual Arts, Foreign Languages, English as a Second Language (ESL)/Bilingual Language Education (BLE), and Special Education. A statewide need to hire reading specialists was also noted.

Like with most other areas of the teaching profession, the vast majority of middle school teachers are women, meaning a strong demand for men to join the teaching profession at this level. School districts, especially those in urban communities, are also in need to hire educators representing racial and ethnic diversity. Specialized programs and incentives have been put into place by various agencies, schools and government initiatives to attract minorities to education.

In conclusion, middle school teachers serve as a buffer between the leniencies of elementary school and the more-demanding realities of high school, which include handling advanced levels of subject matter, heavier workloads, increased homework and the intensity of teenage social pressures. Middle school teachers who have completed a degree program, fulfilled their required hours of student-teaching experience and finished the licensure process are equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to adequately prepare and instruct pre-teen students.

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