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New developments in preparing teachers for the middle grades.

My colleagues and I at George Mason University usually begin a new academic year with a retreat to a rustic regional park near the campus. One of the speakers for our 1987 retreat was the Dean of the College of Education and Human Resources, as our college was then known. He had just returned from a visit to the Virginia Department of Education and had some news to share with us. He was not smiling.

I must admit I wondered why he looked so glum. Hadn't we, under his leadership, completely redesigned our undergraduate initial certification programs in early childhood and middle education and weren't we ready to implement them this fall? Hadn't we studied A Nation at Risk when it was published in 1983 and examined the other reports on restructuring teacher education that soon followed? Hadn't we spent months creatively responding to these reports and weren't we now ready to launch our new, improved undergraduate program? Our Dean informed us, however, about the State Board of Education decision that all future teachers in Virginia would soon have to major in an Arts and Sciences discipline. Furthermore, the Board mandated that students could not apply more than 18 semester hours of education credits toward that degree, excluding student teaching.

All of us were shocked. We were even more distressed when we learned that we were being asked to submit a proposal for a re-structured program by the end of the academic year. The suggested time frame would require us to phase out our current program in four years, develop a new one in one year, and phase in the new one over three years. By the time the Dean was finished speaking, some of us were ready to retreat even further than that rustic park.

The next day, I invited the coordinator of the early childhood education program to lunch so we could commiserate with each other. By the time we finished our meal, we agreed that we had only two choices. We could do what had been mandated and complain every step of the way. Or we could come up with a new, restructured program that was even better than our current one. The second approach won. We also decided to take this opportunity to increase specialization in the early childhood and middle education programs. In our existing programs, all courses were the same for both groups of teachers--with the exception of two reading classes and the student teaching experiences. When I met with those faculty members responsible for writing the proposal, none of us were familiar with the National Middle School Association's position statement on the preparation of middle school teachers (National Middle School Association |NMSA~, 1991b). This statement would have been an excellent place to start. Since we had to have the concept paper for our revised program prepared by the end of the semester, however, we did not have time to conduct a great deal of research. We relied primarily on our own intuition and the advice of teachers and principals in the public schools of Northern Virginia. One of the state guidelines for the restructuring effort required us to involve practitioners in the program development. Having worked cooperatively with many of the schools in the past, we found our colleagues in the public schools to be most willing to do so again. We also included some former students on the advisory committee.

The first question posed by the faculty and the advisory committee was whether increased specialization was the right direction. Under our current program, we had had fewer students working toward the middle education certificate as compared to the early childhood one. The committee questioned the sufficiency of student demand for a program in which none of the courses required of students seeking the grades 4-8 certificate would be the same as for students earning the NK-3 certificate.

To be perfectly honest, I had no answer to their question and began looking for evidence to support my personal belief in the merits of a more specialized program. Fortunately, the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development came to the rescue.

Turning Points

I found the first evidence in the publication Turning Points: Preparing American Youth for the 21st Century (Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1989), prepared by the Carnegie Council's Task Force on the Education of Young Adolescents. The Task Force that prepared Turning Points emphatically recommended more specialized preparation for middle level teachers. "Teachers in the middle grade schools must be selected and specially educated to teach young adolescents." This one statement from Turning Points gave welcome support from a national body to our plan for increasing specialization in the restructured program. The report even recommended some of the elements to include in such a program. When we checked our initial concept paper to see if we had included those elements, we were pleasantly surprised to see that most of them were there.

The National Board

After the release of Turning Points, I continued to watch for other new developments that either supported a more specialized program or provided ideas for effectively implementing such a program. Although the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards was actually established in 1987, I did not take much notice of its work until I saw the certification field/levels it had established (Needham, 1992). The categories developed by the Board were even more specialized than those we were using in Virginia! Generalist categories were Early Childhood (ages 3-8), Middle Childhood (ages 7-12) and Early Adolescence (ages 11-15). This categorization provided more support for our direction.


The third new development we found to support our plans was the National Middle School Association (NMSA) and the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) joint decision to develop a set of criteria for teacher education institutions that would be used for evaluating programs, beginning in 1992 (NMSA, 1991b). In 1980, NMSA had developed some general standards for middle level preparation programs called "essential elements," and revised these in 1986 and 1991 (NMSA, 1991b). These essential elements became the foundation for the criteria developed by NMSA and NCATE. We have used these criteria to prepare the folio for our new program, which was examined as part of our five-year review by NCATE, which we successfully completed in the fall of 1993.

More States Develop Specialized Certificates

When Alexander and McEwin completed their second national study of programs to prepare middle level teachers in 1988, they found 28 states had special middle level certification or endorsements for teachers (Alexander & McEwin, 1988). Their 1978 study found only 15 states with such specialization. They concluded that "program development in teacher education is accelerated by teacher certification requirements of new programs." Alexander and McEwin are now in the process of completing a third survey.

On-Site Field Experiences

The fifth new middle level education development that came to my attention concerned field experiences. Teacher preparation institutions across the U.S. are planning field experiences that are more diverse and scheduled earlier in the program. The NMSA publication On-Site: Preparing Middle Level Teachers Through Field Experiences (Butler, Davies & Dickinson, 1991) describes these field experiences. One college uses the shadow study approach made popular by Lounsbury and his colleagues in studies conducted for the National Secondary School Principals Association.

At George Mason, we still have three undergraduate prerequisite courses. In each of these courses, which may be taken as early as the freshman year, students complete a maximum of 10 hours of field experiences. Some choose to spend even more time in an intensive program that we developed with several Professional Development Schools (PDS) in the area. The PDS program is another new development that has strengthened our middle education program.

Professional Development Schools

Professional Development Schools, according to our way of defining them, are schools in which the majority of the faculty elect to become partners in improving both the education of new teachers and educational practice. This function is described in the Holmes Group publication, Tomorrow's Schools (Holmes Group Executive Board, 1990). As a member of the Holmes Group, George Mason now has Professional Development Schools in two school districts actively involved in the middle education preparation program. If the majority of the faculty do not want their institution to become a PDS site, individual faculty members can join a "clinical faculty," which has been an opportunity available since 1987.

Clinical Faculty

The Holmes group again led the way in this area by encouraging practicing teachers to work as clinical faculty with colleges and universities in their region. These teachers collaborate with universities through the supervision of field experiences and internships (Holmes Group Executive Board, 1986). They also assist in curriculum development and serve as resources for panels and videotaped demonstration lessons.

At George Mason, clinical faculty take a graduate level course that focuses on clinical supervision techniques and examines the multiple roles of the clinical faculty. This three-credit graduate-level course may be applied toward a master's or doctoral program. Hundreds of teachers not in our Professional Development Schools have taken this course, which is taught by a clinical faculty member who has a doctorate. To renew their skills, clinical faculty are invited to a Professional Development SchoOl institute held each spring. More Instructional Materials

Those of us teaching courses for middle grade teachers are always looking for effective publications, video/films and computer software to help us prepare the very best teachers possible. The number and quality of such instructional materials has recently increased. Although the National Middle School Association has been the leader in this area, the National Education Association's publications catalog now has a special section on middle education and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development just released a new publication as well. The Association for Childhood Education International recently published Developmentally Appropriate Middle Level Schools (Manning, 1993) and Phi Delta Kappa published Improving Instruction in Middle Schools (Gilstrap, Bierman & McKnight, 1992).

ACEI Folio Guidelines

ACEI also recently released Elementary Education Curriculum Folio Guidelines for the NCATE Review Process (Association for Childhood Education International, 1992). The folio review process is being handled by the ACEI Teacher Education Committee. These guidelines can be used by programs that offer 4-8 certificates. They are comprehensive and cover all aspects of most teacher education programs in elementary education. George Mason gave them very careful consideration as we prepared for our five-year review.

Greater Interest in Teaching in the Middle Grades

The tenth and final new development that convinced us we were moving in the right direction with our specialized program is the increase of men and women interested in teaching pre- and early adolescence. I do not know why this increase is happening. Is it because national reports emphasize the importance of reaching this age group? Is it because people are becoming more concerned about working with others and serving society after a decade of interest in material gain? Is it because George Mason's new program serves students who already have earned a bachelor's degree in an arts and sciences discipline or its equivalent and thus many of the students are mature individuals who have already tried other professions and found them unsatisfying? Is it because the program is made up of only graduate courses and can be completed in either one or two years, depending upon the student? Is it because the program provides students with the option of completing a master's degree after fulfilling all certification requirements?

I think it may be a combination of all these factors and some that I have not considered. But my main point is our middle education program has not suffered by moving to the graduate level. It now benefits from the renewed attention it is receiving from faculty and public school colleagues who continue to work toward improving the program.


Alexander, W., & McEwin, C. R. (1988). Preparing to teach at the middle level. Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association.

Association for Childhood Education International. (1992). Elementary education curriculum folio guidelines for the NCATE review process. Wheaton, MD: Author. Butler, D. A., Davies, M. A., & Dickinson, T. S. (1991). On-site: Preparing middle level teachers through field experiences. Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association.

Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development. (1989). Turning points: Preparing American youth for the 21st century. New York: Carnegie Corporation of New York. Gilstrap, R. L., Bierman C., & McKnight, T. R. (1992). Improving instruction in middle schools. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa.

Holmes Group Executive Board. (1986). Tomorrow's teachers: A report of the Holmes Group. East Lansing, MI: Holmes Group, Michigan State University.

Holmes Group Executive Board. (1990). Tomorrow's schools: A report of the Holmes Group. East Lansing, MI: Holmes Group, Michigan State University.

Manning, L. (1993). Developmentally appropriate middle level schools. Wheaton, MD: Association for Childhood Education International.

National Middle School Association. (1991a). NCATE-approved curriculum guidelines. Columbus, OH: Author.

National Middle School Association. (1991b). Professional certification and preparation for the middle level: A position paper of the National Middle School Association. Columbus, OH: Author (Original work published 1986).

Needham, N. (1992). National certification: It's really coming. NEA Today, 10(7), p. 3.

Figure 1

(Semester hours for each course in parentheses)

Undergraduate Prerequisite Courses in Education

EDUC 300 - Introduction to Education (3) ECUC 301 - Education of Diverse Populations: Handicapped, Gifted, Multicultural (3) EDUC 302 - Human Growth and Development (3)

Graduate Professional Courses for Certification

EDCI 651 - Curriculum and Instruction in Middle Education (3) EDCI 610 - Literature and Literacy in Middle Education (3) EDCI 609 - Problem Solving in Math in Middle Education (3) EDIT 504 - Introduction to Educational Technology (3) EDCI 608 - Teaching Science in Middle Education (3) EDCI 529 - Teaching Social Studies and Humanities in Middle Education (3) EDCI 528 - Teaching Math in Middle Education (3) EDCI 612 - Content Area Reading in Middle Education (3) EDCI 737 - Assessment and Guiding Behavior in Middle Education (3) EDCI 790B - Internship in Middle Education (6)

Additional Courses for Master's Degree

EDRS 590 - Education Research (3) EDCI 782 - Advanced Seminar in Middle Education (3)

Robert L. Gilstrap is Professor and Coordinator of Middle Education Programs, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia. This article is adapted from his speech delivered at the ACEI Division of Later Childhood/Early Adolescence luncheon held during the Association's 1992 Annual Study Conference in Chicago.
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Author:Gilstrap, Robert L.
Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Mar 22, 1994
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