Quality Teacher Preparation

Quality Teachers Must Have Content Knowledge and Know How to Teach That Knowledge to Young Adolescents

Students in America’s middle level schools deserve and require teachers that know the content of the subjects they teach and have the knowledge and skills to teach those subjects successfully. Without both, students will not learn to their full capacities and middle level schools will fail to meet the expectations of parents and community members.

The U.S. Department of Education has issued a report on teacher quality, Meeting the Highly Qualified Teachers Challenge, in which it contends that teacher education programs are not producing the quality of teachers needed in our nation. Among other recommendations, the report asserts that states should lower the number of “methods” courses prospective teachers are required to complete and reduce the number of teacher preparation requirements.

National Middle School Association believes that there must be a balance in teacher preparation programs. Prospective teachers must learn the content of subjects they teach, but they also must be knowledgeable about the development of their students and have the specialized instructional skills to capitalize on that knowledge. Focusing exclusively or predominantly on content knowledge, at the expense of professional preparation “methods” training, will be less effective in the overall learning of middle level students.

The middle level years are a time when students are experiencing many developmental changes that influence how they learn. They are neither simply big elementary kids, nor little high school students. They are at a unique and crucial developmental stage that demands teachers who understand them and know how to teach them in ways that maximize learning. Authentic middle level schools staffed by teachers with both content knowledge and specialized professional preparation provide the best learning opportunities for all young adolescents.

In its position statement Professional Preparation of Middle Level Teachers, NMSA states, “Middle school teachers must be experts in the developmental needs of young adolescents. Without a solid grounding in knowledge and experience of young adolescent development, the success of the individual middle school teacher and middle schools as a whole are limited.”

NMSA’s landmark document on middle level education, This We Believe: Developmentally Responsive Middle Level Schools, explains that “Effective middle level educators … understand the developmental uniqueness of young adolescents and are as knowledgeable about their students as they are about the subject matter they teach.” These teachers are using proven techniques such as teaming, integrated learning, interdisciplinary work, and connecting content to real-world situations to motivate and challenge students. They learn these techniques in “methods” classes in their preparation programs. Instead of calling for the elimination of such classes, the U.S. Department of Education should urge that all middle level teachers be given the opportunity to learn the instructional techniques that work with this unique age group as well as gain content knowledge in the subjects they teach.

“The distinctive developmental and learning characteristics of young adolescents provide the foundation for selecting teaching strategies,” This We Believe states. “Teaching techniques should enhance and accommodate the diverse skills, abilities, and knowledge of young adolescents, cultivate multiple intelligences, and capitalize on students’ individual learning styles.”

This should not be an either/or situation. Students, parents, and communities should be able to expect that there is a teacher in every classroom who knows his or her subject and also knows how to effectively teach that content to young adolescent learners. NMSA urges states and communities to seek a balanced approach to teacher preparation in the interest of the 9.2 million middle level students in the United States.

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