Implementation of an early middle level field experience: a teacher education recruitment solution: attempts to educate university students, as well as the public, about the nature of middle school students and the philosophy of middle level education have proven to be a challenge.
New State Certifications
Faculty at universities throughout Texas recently implemented middle level certification for the purpose of meeting the state's new tri-level certification. The Texas State Board of Educator Certification's (SBEC) move to three certification levels--PK-4, 4-8, and 8-12--presents additional challenges for the preservice candidate now interested in teaching at the middle level. In the past, students who were interested in subject area specialization could major in a specific area of interest, minor in education, and then become certified to teach at the secondary level (6-12). This worked well for both preservice candidates and district personnel offices as a "one-size-fits-all" certification, which filled needed vacancies. The problem with teacher preparation programs that respond to this certification, however, is that middle level teaching strategies specific to adolescents are subjugated to high school teaching methods or are frequently overlooked entirely. This lends further credence to the assumption that middle level teaching often has served as a stepping-stone for high school teaching positions.
Prior to the development of this middle level certification program, university faculty sought local principal input; aligned course syllabi with program standards for middle level teacher preparation (NMSA, 2001); researched the UTeach Program (1997) at the University of Texas in Austin, which seeks to increase the number and diversity of students seeking teacher certification; and participated in discussions with state and national leaders in the field of middle school education. As a result, the importance of early field experiences came to be seen as a unifying common theme.
I ... recently changed my major at the beginning of this year and I still was not too sure whether I really wanted to teach. At first, the only motivation to teach was the fact that I could have holidays and summers off with my daughter when she is in school. But now I really want to teach. Not just for the time off in the summer but for the feeling of satisfaction that I will achieve while helping kids be better citizens. I have learned that I am capable of guiding other people along. And there is always room for an individual to improve and I believe that these children will open my eyes to new ideas. I never knew I would enjoy being around middle school children either. I went into college saying that I would never set foot into a junior high school and teach. I always thought the children were too hard to handle. Now that is the only grade I want to teach. I cannot wait to begin teaching.
--Allison, college sophomore, member of the Exploring Teaching class
Candidates make career decisions after working with middle school students in supportive environments. This field experience assists in recruitment efforts, while it dispels commonly held stereotypes about adolescents, develops interest and skills in working with young adolescents, serves as a platform for career reflection, and establishes the mindset of service learning in collaboration with area public school districts. Consequently, it is a necessary prerequisite to the middle level certification program. After six semesters, this field course, Exploring Teaching, has expanded from one to four sections and has brought numerous candidates to the middle level program.
As in all new programs, recruitment continues to be a concern. A plausible solution is to extend an invitation to all students at the university to participate in a positive experience with children and to be of service to the community. This invitation offers course information to students at organization orientations, the counseling center, and numerous meetings with students at large. However, an essential preliminary component to the recruitment process is finding the appropriate recruiter to extend the invitation. The main criterion for a recruiter was a fundamental knowledge of middle school development and a commitment to putting effective teachers in middle school classrooms. The person enlisted for this task is a former middle school principal with 30 years of experience and a passion for teaching middle level children.
The instructor visits many groups on campus, including sororities, fraternities, service organizations, and freshman classes, with the goal of enlisting teacher candidates based upon the four enticements for this course: 1) the class meets only once a week, 2) candidates receive one semester credit hour, 3) no book purchase is required, and most appealingly, 4) the university student has the opportunity to actually mentor a young adolescent in a middle level classroom. Many former students spread the word about this extraordinary experience to other potential candidates; in spite of a commuter college atmosphere, enrollment has more than tripled since its first offering during the fall semester of 2001.
Exploring Teaching Class
The goal of the program is to address teacher preparation that is specific to teaching and learning for young adolescents, as well as recruitment. Developmentally responsive pedagogy and practice research (Jackson & Davis, 2000; National Forum, 2002; NMSA, 2003) states that middle level candidates must be knowledgeable about young adolescent characteristics and learning styles, and understand how these relate to the teaching of content knowledge and strategies. These topics are introduced in the university classroom and later drive the content of field discussions. Here, the authors share the knowledge garnered through the development and implementation of this initial field experience course with other university programs and school districts.
The course, while open to any university student willing to devote one hour a week in the classroom and a minimum of 10 hours per semester in community schools, is also one of the first required courses in middle level certification. Through this undertaking, university students take the first step to becoming teacher candidates, as they begin to understand the relationship that teachers and young adolescents must share and maintain. The field placement portion of the course involves more than observation; it requires participation. Candidates mentor students one-on-one or in small groups in the classroom, using learning strategies and topical information previously learned in the university classroom. At the conclusion of the course, even students who do not select teaching as a career have become knowledgeable members of the education community and have gained self-knowledge, which will assist them in their career choices.
Course topics include a basic introduction into adolescents' developmental characteristics and needs, as well as their styles of learning and how to work with them. These course topics support the Learner-Centered Proficiencies, which are required of all teachers in Texas. After three weeks of orientation and topic introduction, the instructor places all university candidates in classrooms with certified classroom teachers who have demonstrated successful teaching practices.
Middle school is the focus of this recruitment, and most candidates do select middle schools; however, a few students request elementary or secondary placements. An arrangement then is established for continuous and informal interchanges among the university instructor, the candidates, and the mentor teacher. Subsequently, spontaneous collegial-learning interchanges occur between the university candidates and the middle school students during the course of each visit to the school.
The National Forum's (2002) National Forum Policy Statement on Teacher Preparation, Licensure, and Recruitment and NMSA's (2003) This We Believe: Successful Schools for Young Adolescents, along with an intended focus of recruitment, direct many of the class activities. Specifically, candidates participate in learning experiences with 1) a focus on academic excellence, 2) a concern for developmental responsiveness, 3) an emphasis on equity and diversity, and 4) early and continuing field placements. The study of Gardner's multiple intelligence theory (1983), Maslow's (1970) Hierarchy of Needs, Keirsey's (1998) Four Temperaments, and service learning concepts (Scales & McEwin, 1994) encourages candidates to learn about themselves and, in turn, understand what motivates young adolescents. Also, candidates create an imaginary ideal middle school (Jackson & Davis, 2000) as a way to recognize the appropriate learning environment for middle school students. Initially, students work individually and then in whole-group discussion with the university instructor, who demonstrates students' inherent broad schema of best practice. These course experiences demonstrate the keen connection of understanding self and others and teaching of young adolescents. Out-ofclass discussions of these experiences assist in recruiting, as candidates spread the word of their work in classrooms to other potential candidates.
Ideal Middle School. Candidates begin the semester by creating an ideal middle school that is based, initially, upon data gathered from their past experiences, followed by instruction on the effective middle school (Jackson & Davis, 2000). This experience occurs after the instructor carefully networks with area principals and selects and places the candidates. After an initial visit, the candidates then reconvene in discussion groups relevant to their school placements, brainstorm effective practices, and begin to collectively write a description of an ideal middle school. Candidates who selected elementary or secondary school placements offer insightful contrasts between the different grade and developmental levels, making the experience more meaningful. Through this exercise, candidates inherently raise their awareness of teaching in general and integrate their knowledge of teaching methods, curriculum, school climate, and education philosophy. State competencies then are introduced, and groups align these with their proposed ideal school. Finally, each candidate reflects in writing upon his/her own philosophy of education, which is based on relevant instruction, experiences, and personal beliefs. Candidates then, collectively and in concert with the instructor, create an ideal middle school; some students are surprised to find how closely it aligns with learner competences, multiple intelligences, and learning styles.
Keirsey's Four Temperaments. The next activity, and probably one of the most popular for candidates, is the study of work styles using Keirsey's (1998) Four Temperaments. In this approach, colors are used to designate the different types of collaborative work styles. Ultimately, candidates incorporate this information as they develop relationships with middle level students in the classroom, who are encouraged to share this information with other students and their families.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow's (1970) Hierarchy of Needs demonstrates what must precede a responsive learning environment. University candidates realize that their role in addressing the needs of young adolescents is as important as the academic content information given to the students. Thus, the importance of a developmentally responsive curriculum is evident as they observe learning taking place in an environment where students feel free to take risks and where their basic needs are met. One instructor related the importance of this activity in the following statement:
We teach the need of food, clothing, shelter, and security of which emotional security is absolutely vital. Although 1 always hit the content, aimed towards the student that they would be mentoring.... Using Maslow is a good way to indirectly send that message home. It is very effective and in conversations that they have in the classroom, they come in and they will even put in writing at the end of the semester "I was never going to teach middle school, because I thought those kids were so hard to control ... and now, I just love them." I have three students this semester who have moved out of parochial and private schools into urban middle. I say that that is the result of Maslow.
Gardner's Multiple Intelligences. The inclusion of multiple intelligences is intended to retrain our candidates' traditional mindset of paper-and-pencil tests into a more student-centered philosophy, with a focus on diversity and styles of learning activities and assessments. To demonstrate the support and prevalence of multiple intelligence classroom activities, each candidate is asked to search the Internet and make note of the thousands of hits on the topic. Each candidate then takes a multiple intelligence test found at the following Internet site: http://surfaquarium.com (McKenzie, 1999); then the students participate in class discussions, and later administer a test to students in the schools. Candidates are encouraged to teach this concept to the students, as well.
The instructor carefully selects and sustains communication through direct contact with administrators and frequent school visits, which helps to ensure successful outcomes for candidates and public school students. Communication with administrators allows university candidates to focus primarily on supporting the students' learning and not on clerical activities. The selected middle schools reflect the middle school concept and have a positive, welcoming climate in which the candidates can observe and experience best practices.
The duties of the university candidate vary from one-on-one mentoring of students to working with groups on various assignments. Together, the university candidate and the teacher create the schedule of each mentoring activity. The mentoring experiences help dispel stereotypes about adolescent behavior, help recruit university candidates into the teaching of middle level, and provide opportunities for service learning.
Through the activities in this course, students gain an understanding of the relevance of their academic coursework, a better understanding of themselves and others, and an awareness of diversity in teaching. The critical field component in local schools contributes the talented, energetic, and motivated human resources necessary to meet the ever-increasing needs of schools. Also, such activities increase campus-community collaboration and partnerships, which show the public that the university is responsive to the needs of the schools. Finally, the inclusion of this course assists in recruiting candidates and increasing the awareness of the importance of middle school specialization.
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind. New York: Basic Books.
Jackson, A. W., & Davis, G. A. (2000). Turning points 2000: Educating adolescents in the 21st century. New York: Teachers College Press/National Middle School Association/ National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Keirsey, D. (1998). Please understand me II. Temperament, character, and intelligence. Delmar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis Book Company.
Maslow, A.H. (1970). Motivation and personality (2nd ed.). New York: Harper & Row.
McKenzie, W. (1999). The one and only surf aquarium. Retrieved September 3, 2004, from http://surfaquarium.com.
National Forum. (2002). National Forum policy statement: Teacher preparation, licensure, and recruitment. Retrieved June 22, 2004, from www.mgforum.org/about/about.asp.
National Middle School Association. (2001). Program standards for middle level teacher preparation. Columbus, OH: Author.
National Middle School Association. (2003). This we believe: Successful schools for young adolescents. Columbus, OH: Author.
Scales, P. C., & McEwin, K. (1994). Growing pains: The making of America's middle school teachers. Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association.
University of Texas. (1997). Uteach program. Retrieved June 22, 2004, from www.uteach.utexas.edu.
Shirley Theriot and Angelo Alcala are Assistant Professors and Linda Denson is a Lecturer, University of Texas at Arlington.