Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

Teacher Preparation Pathways for Teaching Middle School Grades

Middle grade teachers (Middle School Teachers) come from diverse backgrounds. Teachers may be credentialed specifically for the middle grades or credentialed for a broad range of grades that include the middle years. They may have varying amounts of pedagogical coursework and subject-area coursework. Requirements are set at the state level, and alternative paths may be developed in times of shortage. In short, there are many paths to becoming a middle school teacher, but they aren’t all equal.

The Middle School: Crucial Years

Different groups have different visions of what education looks like in the middle grades, but there's growing evidence that being prepared as a subject matter expert isn’t enough. It’s important to know at least one academic discipline well, but it’s also important to know kids.

Some teachers have a particular affinity for this age group. They like observing “little kids” transform into young people and being a positive influence in their growth.

Middle school is a stage, though, where children not uncommonly lose ground, showing lower engagement and academic achievement than in elementary school. Some teachers consider behavior to be more challenging at this level than it is in either elementary school or high school.

Educators note, though, that difficult behaviors aren’t an inevitable result of the hormonal changes of early adolescence and that kids are more engaged academically when systems are well designed and educators are prepared to meet their needs.

Middle Grade Settings

There are multiple grade configurations possible, including middle school, junior high, and K-8.

There is quite a bit of recent research pointing toward better middle grade achievement for students in K-8 settings. It has been stated that children at this stage benefit from having teachers who know them well. They sometimes display better behavior when there are younger children around and they see themselves in a role model position. They benefit from having fewer academic transitions. (Not only will they need a more specialized, departmentalized school experience when they're a little older --they'll be better prepared for it.)

The Association for Middle Level Education, on the other hand, notes that the middle school model can be very successful when teachers have appropriate training, specific to middle school. Schools may use various methods for making middle school more personalized, including “looping”. A teacher who looped would likely teach 6th grade one year, 7th the next.

Middle Grade Endorsements

Most states issue a middle grade endorsement. In many cases, though, this is a voluntary credential. Teaching endorsements overlap a good deal. Middle grade configurations look different from state to state and so do endorsements. The Association for Middle Level Education focuses on grades 5-9 but recognizes that states may issue their middle grade endorsements in grade bands varying from 4-8 to 6-9.

Middle school teachers may, depending on the state, work under elementary or secondary endorsements. In some, all three are options. States issue elementary licenses for varying grade bands. Some are issued through grade eight. A K-8 credential, though, won't always authorize teaching in departmentalized settings through grade eight. The teacher may need to meet content area requirements in one or more academic areas in order to teach that subject to middle schoolers.

Secondary/ middle secondary endorsements may, depending on the state, authorize teaching as low as grade 5 in the subject area for which the endorsement is issued; 6-12 and 7-12 licenses are more common. States with mandatory middle grade licenses issue their secondary licenses 8-12 or 9-12.

States that issue middle grade endorsements typically issue them in the core areas of language arts, social studies, science, and math. Some states issue a far greater range. In many states, though, subjects like art and music are taught by teachers with K-12 credentialing.

The following are examples from specific states:

Missouri issues grades 1-6, 5-9, and 9-12 credentials (

California does not issue middle level certification per se but issues single subject certifications and multiple subject certifications; the latter are designed for self-contained classrooms, most often at the elementary level. Out-of-state teachers with middle grade-only certification may pursue the credential most appropriate to their circumstances.

Arizona is among the states that allows many pathways. The state has new middle grade certifications but also allows teachers to work under K-8 credentials if they have a middle grade discipline as an approved teaching area. In order to have an approved area noted, teachers must show subject area competence; this may be demonstrated in multiple ways, including coursework and testing.

Middle School Programs

Some states place a good deal of importance on CAEP accreditation. AMLE sets standards for CAEP-accredited programs that offer comprehensive initial middle grade credentialing in academic disciplines. Programs are not granted the AMLE recognition status if they are considered add-on and include only a few courses.

Recognized middle grade programs operate according to AMLE standards in areas such as educational psychology, middle grade organization and philosophy, and middle grade curriculum. There are also standards for subject area preparation. AMLE has stated that initial educator preparation programs for middle school teachers should include preparation in two subject areas – among other things, this facilitates teaming. However, dual preparation is not mandatory for AMLE recognition.

Middle school teachers have strong content preparation in at least one academic discipline, often two. Coursework expectations vary by state. Often discipline-specific coursework is at the level of a minor. Sometimes the requirement is significantly higher.

The minimum educational level is the baccalaureate degree. Certification may be achieved as part of a degree program or subsequent to it. A student who completes a traditional program will generally have multiple field experiences culminating in a semester of student teaching. Some post-baccalaureate programs include an extended pre-professional period; others don’t.

Prospective teachers generally take multiple assessments. Most states require subject-specific assessments. Some states require middle grade teachers to pass an assessment of literacy teaching knowledge.

Some require a relatively traditional test of teaching skills (for example, the Praxis Principles of Learning and Teaching: Grades 5-9). Some mandate a portfolio-based pedagogical assessment. An individual who achieves certification and later seeks additional endorsements is generally not required to repeat pedagogical tests.