Becoming a Teacher: Middle School or Junior High School (page 4)
The middle level teaching certification and/or licenses cover grades between 4 and 9. The exact grades covered vary from state to state, as seen in the table.
Traditionally, students entered the junior high school after grade 6 to complete grades 7 and 8, and sometimes 9; and the junior high school was a small version of the high school. Students followed a schedule and subject matter similar to those of the high school. The newer middle school concept has been adopted in many districts. Middle schools usually house grades 6–8 (sometimes 9) and are organized on the belief that students in these grades are unique and need opportunities, beyond purely academic pursuits, to explore vocational and avocational interests. Students are offered "exploratories" that expose them to many interesting intellectual or social/emotional activities. Middle school schedules often are built on blocks of time that can be manipulated to provide longer periods for certain activities during the school day. Additionally, teachers are organized into teams, so a group of students shares the same teachers in the core curriculum areas. The team teachers meet periodically to discuss the intellectual, emotional, and social needs of the students. For more information about middle schools, visit the National Middle School Association's website at www.nmsa.org.
High schools house grades 9–12, or 10–12, depending on the district. A few districts group grade 9 in the middle or junior high school, and some house the ninth grade separately. The schedule of the high school day may vary. Traditionally, the school day was divided into six or seven 45- to 60-minute teaching periods. Today, some high schools have block schedules that divide the school day into as few as four periods or as many as ten or more periods. Some schools, such as one in San Juan High School in California, are adventurous enough to offer their students schedules in both traditional and block formats.
Middle, Junior, or High School Subject Specialties
If you love a particular subject, then you may want to choose a subject area to specialize in at the middle school, junior high school, or high school level. Are you a history buff who knows every battle from the Civil War? Do you love to read and find yourself trying to encourage others to read with you? Are you very good in math? Do you have a mechanical mind and love working on your car? If you want to become an expert in one field and share your passion with your students, teaching at the secondary level may be for you. There are many different subject areas you can select, such as:
- English and language arts
- physical education
- social studies
- home economics
- technical and vocational education
- education media
Schools keep adding more departments, and each one has subspecialties within the broad scope of the curriculum. The license for many of the academic departments commonly found in middle school, junior high school, and high school is usually for grades 7–12. Licenses for music, art, and physical education are often K–12. Certification requirements vary by state, but each specialty requires a separate license.
With a subject area specialization, you could teach five variations of a subject within a department or, if it is needed, you could repeat the same class four times to different groups of students. You may be asked to teach a class that is not in your subject area (and if you are new, you must say yes). Some teachers thrive in this kind of environment, rewarded by the opportunity to delve into a subject and to share their interest in that subject with many different students.
Special education is a demanding, yet rewarding, area of specialization that is growing by leaps and bounds. In 2009, President Obama's economic stimulus package more than doubled current federal funding for special education programs. The number needed is expected to increase by 15% by 2016—faster than the average for all occupations. Increases in the number of special education students will generate a greater need for special education teachers. So, if you have a soft spot in your heart for children with special needs, consider making this your specialty.
The range of possibilities in this area is vast. The special education license is usually very broad, covering grades K–12. If you have this certification, a school district can place you in any number of settings. You can even work in a residential setting if impaired students are too disabled to come to a general education building. Most public schools house their own special education classes, but this is not always the case.
There are, of course, many types of disabilities. Whenever possible, students with disabilities are mainstreamed into a regular classroom for all or part of their school day. Students with many kinds of physical disabilities, for instance, can learn right along with the regularly abled students of their same age. However, other kinds of disabilities may require that students get special support, either part-time out of the regular classroom or in a special class. Depending on your state, you may be able to get a special license to handle, for instance, students who are visually impaired, students with orthopedic disabilities, children with behavioral disorders, and many others.
Special education teachers may work alone or with others to create Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for each of their students. An IEP is a written agreement between the parents or guardians and the school about what each child needs and what will be done to address those needs; IEPs are mandated by a federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Children classified as "learning disabled" often have equal or better natural intelligence than other students in the school; they just have a problem in the processing. They fall under federal special education laws, and teachers must follow an IEP for each one of them. While there is some room for creativity, the plan must be fully implemented.
Special Education Categories
While the areas of specialization within the broad heading of special education vary significantly from state to state, here is a list of several categories of special needs:
- attention deficit disorder
- at-risk children
- developmentally delayed
- hard of hearing
- mental retardation: mild/moderate
- mental retardation: severe/profound
- multiply disabled
- orthopedic impairments
- other health impairments
- serious emotional disturbance
- specific learning disabilities
- speech or language impairments
- traumatic brain injury
- visually impaired
A special education license allows you to teach children with varied needs. For a student with a serious disability, you may be the one person who helps integrate the special education student into society. Motivating children who have disabilities to succeed often requires tremendous patience and energy. These children may need more repetitive teaching strategies or more intensive assistance, such as being accompanied to the bathroom or physically moved from place to place. The degree of these challenges varies among the subspecialty areas. Special education requires a deep commitment. If you like to help others in addition to teaching them, this is an excellent area of education for you. For more information about issues in special education, contact the Council for Exceptional Children's website at www.cec.sped.org.
Concentrations in Special Education
Most teacher education programs prepare you for a special education license that allows you to work with many different disabilities. However, some teacher education programs offer concentrations of courses in one of the specialized areas that follow.
Resource Room. Students who need support in a particular deficit area may be taken out of their regular classroom for several hours a week to study with a small group. Teaching in a resource room, you work with children who spend most of their day in a regular classroom but require modified instruction. Resource room teachers sometimes work as consultants for the students in the regular classroom with another instructor.
Self-Contained Classroom. Every school district has a different method of assigning students to a self-contained classroom. The class may include children with different problems, only children with physical disabilities, or only children with emotional or learning disabilities. As teacher of a self-contained classroom, you probably spend most of the day with the same class. Classes are sometimes cross-graded, and you may have a teacher's aide assisting you. The class size may be up to, but cannot exceed, 15 students.
Visually Impaired. As a teacher of visually impaired students, you may work in a school that specializes in this area or within a regular education setting, one-on-one or with small groups. You would prepare special materials for the students, help other instructors modify programs, and you would probably need to know Braille. You may need a specialized license to work with visually impaired students in some states.
Hearing Impaired. Hearing-impaired children who need special services may be in a regular classroom setting or in a school that specializes in this area. As a teacher of hearing-impaired students, you probably would need to know sign language and would help full-time classroom teachers modify their programs for your students. Working with students who are hearing impaired requires a specialized license in some states.
Physically Disabled. Some students cannot do any physical tasks on their own; they must be fed, bathed, and tended to during the day by school staff. These children, from infants to age twenty-one, may have fulltime nurses and very serious physical limitations that make them unable to attend regular public schools. Their classes generally are held away from the regular classrooms because of the students' special physical needs.
To make yourself more marketable, you may want to obtain a license in reading in addition to either regular education or special education. This license offers flexibility in K–12 assignments. The job is varied and interesting. As a reading specialist, you may work with gifted students or with students who have fallen behind. Some reading teachers work as teacher trainers, helping other staff members. Other reading teachers work with the school's administration to develop standardized reading programs for that school. You may get the chance to organize reading clubs and contests, book fairs, or special visits from authors of children's books.
Each district has its own standards and regulations about how reading teachers are used. The bottom line is that this license can help you get a job, especially if you use it to support a regular education or special education license. For more information, visit the International Reading Association's website at www.reading.org.
This area of specialization requires that you be fluent in a language in addition to English. You teach limited-English proficient (LEP) students subject matter in their native tongue while they learn to speak English. In New York City, for example, there are bilingual classes in Russian, Farsi, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, Creole, and other languages. Bilingual teachers mostly work in elementary schools and middle schools. In the past, bilingual educators were needed mainly in large urban areas in California, Texas, and New York. However, the number of limited-English-proficient students is now increasing in other school districts (South Carolina, Arkansas, Indiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee), so opportunities for bilingual educators are increasing all across the nation. Due to the severe lack of qualified bilingual teachers, several federal, state, and local programs have been created to help people obtain teacher training and certification in bilingual education. To get more information about bilingual education, visit the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education's website at www.ncbe.gwu.edu.
English as a Second Language
As an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, you do not have to speak another language. Using specialized techniques, you work with small groups of students—who may speak any number of foreign languages—to teach them English. Often, your students change throughout the day, coming to you from their regular or bilingual classrooms for a few hours of ESL work every day. You may have the help of one or more teacher aides who speak the language of the students you are teaching. However, this is not always the case.
ESL teachers are needed at all the levels: prekindergarten, elementary, middle school, junior high school, and high school. Many states require that this service be provided for several years. Children who are born in the United States but live in a house where English is not spoken can be eligible for this service. For more information, visit the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) website at www.tesol.org.
If you love to play sports and take part in other physical activities, you may be interested in pursuing a career as a physical education teacher. Physical education teachers at the elementary and high school levels have very different roles to fulfill. For example, if you want to become a physical education teacher in an elementary school, you would focus on helping your students to develop motor skills and to play organized games together. Running games are popular at this level. You may need to teach at more than one elementary school if each school has limited physical education requirements for their students (some schools offer gym classes only once or twice a week).
If you choose to teach physical education at the middle school or junior high school level, you will probably teach six or seven different classes each day. You may specialize in one area, such as sports, health, or dance or rotate areas throughout the school year. In high schools, physical education teachers may teach students a variety of team and individual sports, including swimming, weight training, and gymnastics. You will most likely be encouraged to become a coach for one or more sports activities that take place after regular school hours—and you will get additional pay for each coaching assignment. If you get intensely involved in extracurricular team sports, you may spend a lot of time traveling to other schools and cities for games, competitions, and tournaments. For more information, visit the National Association for Sport and Physical Education's website at www.aahperd.org/naspe.
If you've always loved music or are a musician, you could bring your passion to students and learning. One teacher explains, "It's also really interesting to present a rather complex musical idea to a child and find that it is not so complex to a child, with a young, absorbent mind, ready to soak up the world." As a teacher specializing in music, several opportunities are available to you, including band teacher, choral teacher, and orchestra teacher.
Similar to physical education teachers in elementary schools, you may need to teach music classes in more than one school per day. That is because students often attend music class only once or twice a week at this level. In these situations, teachers have to adjust rapidly to different age groups, which can sometimes be difficult when an eighth grade class follows a kindergarten. The subject matter and level of proficiency of the two age groups are so different that it is sometimes hard to switch gears.
In addition, interacting with classroom teachers can take some practice. Sharing lessons and ideas, especially when other teachers see your class as secondary to the core subjects (reading, writing, math, and so on) that they teach, can be a challenge. The best way to manage this relationship is to follow what the classroom teachers are teaching and adapt your music lessons to fit in with their subject matter. For example, if the students are studying antebellum history, try teaching folk ballads, spirituals, and patriotic songs from that period. This strategy helps engage the students as they began to make connections between the classroom materials and the music as primary resources.
Your duties as an elementary school music teacher would include introducing young children to the history and rhythms of music and guiding children in singing activities. In older elementary grades, students are often encouraged to join choirs or begin playing a musical instrument.
If you choose to become a music teacher at the middle school level, you will probably spend time teaching students basic music appreciation and choral singing, as well as guiding bands or orchestras. You may sponsor or organize special concerts throughout the year in which your students perform for the public.
At the high school level, music teachers teach regular classes in different types of music, just like the other high school teachers teach classes in their subject area. However, many music teachers have duties after regular school hours, such as directing student bands, orchestras, and chorals for plays, sports events, and concerts. For more information on music education careers, visit the National Association for Music Education's website at www.menc.org.
Technology is taught in grades K–12. In grades 6–12, it is taught as a subject by certified technology teachers, and in grades K–5 teachers may incorporate technology concepts into other subjects.
Teachers who specialize in computers or technology education often manage a resource room that contains computers or some other type of computer lab in their school. They may focus on training both students and teachers in the use of computers—helping teachers to integrate the use of technology into their lessons and helping students to learn how to use computers. The level of expertise varies among teachers in the computer/technology area. Some have a background in computer hardware and software and do the actual maintenance and troubleshooting of the school's computers, while others may have a more managerial role, assigning repairs to someone else. Nonteaching duties for computer/technology specialists vary from school to school, but you may be expected to manage equipment budgets, design or update school web pages, and develop new technology plans or programs. Teaching duties in a computer lab may include coaching small groups of students, leading a full class, or coteaching different subjects with another teacher. For more information, visit the International Technology Education Association website at www.iteaconnect.org.
If you are still undecided about your preferred teaching location, level, or area of specialization when you enroll in a teacher education program, don't panic. Not all of your choices will be obvious at the outset, and you don't have to decide right away. Most programs offer opportunities to observe or volunteer in classrooms early on, long before the student teaching assignment.
The Inside Track
|Who:||Mona H. Ford|
|What:||High School English Teacher|
|Where:||Hillcrest High School, Memphis, Tennessee|
|Type of School:||Urban Public School|
|How long:||25 years as teacher and trainer|
|Degree(s):||BS in Education, 1979; 15 years toward ME in Curriculum and Instructional Design|
|School:||University of Memphis|
Love what you do. No matter how the day ends, if you love teaching, you can come back the next day. Experience has taught me that one never knows the immediate impact of an endeavor. Sometimes we find out years later, in special and unexpected ways.
What I Wish I Had Learned in School
The capacity to learn something, and then to apply it, was never addressed in school when I attended. I never understood why reading all those books in high school would be so important. I came up in a generation where being able to read was considered a treasure in itself, so I was taught to appreciate and love it. The practical application of such a great skill was never addressed, although I benefited greatly from having received such a great education.
This goes back to the power of discovery when I realize that I have had a tremendous influence when I thought, at the time, that my efforts were futile. I love having my students return and thank me for helping them become successful. Since parents and guardians have virtually left their high-school-aged children for teachers and others to raise and influence, we cannot gauge the impact of our efforts until our students leave us and discover the gifts that we have given them.
There is a huge disconnect between the reality of the classroom environment and how administrators and parents or guardians perceive this. This creates many support problems for teachers. I always feel saddled with more and more responsibility and paperwork, with less authority and pay.
Undecided. Maybe I will teach for one more year, but I will definitely publish something in the next two years. I have been haphazardly working on a book about my mother and another on family history, which I have been researching since 1984. I have had the opportunity to travel throughout Europe and to four of the seven continents. I also plan to add some more travel miles to my portfolio, especially return trips to Alaska and Washington, DC.
Washington Virtual Academies
Tuition-free online school for Washington students.
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