Middle = Too Elementary?

The report “Teacher Quality in a Changing Policy Landscape: Improvements in the Teacher Pool” (2007) from ETS, the Educational Testing Service, reached several interesting conclusions about how teacher education, certification exam pass rates, and student preparation had changed–or not–between a mid-1990s cohort and a mid-2000s group. For example, while school populations are increasingly diverse, teaching candidates remain overwhelmingly white and female, with a huge gap in the number of Latino/a teachers vs. the number of Latino/a students. The report also found patterns that have been described and replicated in research since 2007, that college students with higher SAT scores and higher GPAs tend to have more success in passing their certification exam(s).

One thing that stood out to me, however, is the following remark:

It is also important to consider that more people are taking middle-school Praxis tests. While more individuals are taking tests to attain licenses in specific content areas, it is also clear that not all content based assessments are equally demanding. Individuals taking the middle-school tests have far less academic preparation in specific content areas than those seeking secondary subject licensure. The profile of test takers for middle-school licensure more closely resembles that of elementary generalists than of secondary subject teachers.

This makes it sound like junior high teachers are glorified elementary teachers. If you’re pursuing Math, ELAR, or Social Studies 4-8 certification, how closely does your degree plan resemble the EC-6 course selection? How closely does it match the degree plan that someone working towards 8-12 licensure has to complete?

Students at Texas A&M University on the ELAR 4-8 plan take 30 semester credit hours beyond Freshman Composition (and have to get through the 2000-level in a foreign language) as well as 15 hours of Reading. That’s 10 English classes and 5 Reading. Students on the Interdisciplinary ELAR and Social Studies 4-8 track take just 9 credit hours of English–3 classes–plus 12 credits in Reading–4 classes. One of those English classes is Freshman Comp II or Tech Writing. My child’s 8th grade English teacher may have taken 2 advanced English classes, or maybe he had to take 10, plus more Reading coursework. If my child has a Prairie View ELAR 8-12 graduate at the front of the class, that teacher has 12 advanced English classes under his/her belt.

As a parent, I have to confess, I might prefer Teacher #2 or #3.

I don’t know how anyone can become an expert in English Language Arts AND Social Studies in 120-130 credit hours. I stand in awe of middle school teachers in general, willing to take on the tween population in all its hormonal confusion. I have no great answers on how to improve preparation or training, aside from wishing that middle school candidates took more content in their primary areas and made 7th and 8th grades more like pre-high school rather than advanced elementary. I know there’s no reason for this from a practical, TExES perspective, since the “content” exam covers teaching situations more than anything and doesn’t ask students to identify Edgar Allan Poe’s literary period.

Teacher sitting with two smiling students

picture from Microsoft Office Images & partner iStockphoto

I want teachers who can teach, who inspire the smiles on students’ faces like we see in the picture above. Is it too much to ask that they know a little about Poe, too?

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