Secondary Education

Managing Beginning Adolescence: How to Become a Middle School Teacher

Managing Beginning Adolescence: How to Become a Middle School Teacher
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Lizzie Perrin profile
Lizzie Perrin June 6, 2018

Middle school is a formative and sometimes challenging time for adolescents. Students are at a tender age, and at a time of transition. If you have a passion for inspiring young people and paving their way to college prep, Noodle has some insight for you.

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Middle school aged students are going through major physical and cognitive transformations. In addition to experiencing the unique brain development and physiological changes of early adolescence, middle school students are just beginning to get a taste of independence and adulthood. But despite these new developments, they are still very much in need of nurturing.

These variables can create a challenging educational environment. This is why middle school teachers are so important. Middle school teachers are responsible for guiding students through the shift from literal to abstract learning, and are expected to deliver quality curricula that will prepare students for the increased demands of high school.

A middle school teacher generally works with 6th through 8th grade students, although some middle schools will include 9th grade and/or exclude 6th grade.

As will be discussed, a middle school teacher’s duties largely depend on the subject(s) he or she chooses to teach. An ideal middle school teacher is compassionate, energetic, optimistic, and communicative. Middle school teachers must genuinely exhibit a love for teaching, and empathy towards the difficult challenges middle school students face.

Middle school teacher requirements

In the U.S., teacher certification requirements fall under the jurisdiction of state and local entities. With that said, each state stipulates the minimum qualifications to become a middle school teacher. Across the board, all states do require a bachelor’s degree and some type of teacher certification. The path to certification, however, might be different from state to state.

Unlike in elementary school, middle school teachers can choose the subjects they wish to teach. That said, it is also common for middle school teachers to teach multiple courses within broader subject areas, such as mathematics, English, and science. This means that if you have a bachelor’s degree in a subject other than education, you may have an opportunity to teach that specialized subject.

Once you’ve obtained a bachelor’s degree, most states will require enrollment in a teacher preparation program. This program will result in a teaching certificate after you’ve passed the necessary basic skills exams. The Education Commission of the States maintains multiple resources that can help you determine the middle school teaching requirements for your state.



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How long will it take to become a middle school teacher?

The process of becoming a middle school teacher will depend on your background, your education level, and the state in which you live. If you have already completed a bachelor’s degree and live in a state that does not require additional education in order to achieve teacher certification, you may be able to become a teacher fairly quickly. If you are just getting started, however, it will take you a few years before you can become fully certified. Either way, the time invested in this endeavor is worth the hard work.

Below are the estimated time-frames associated with the requirements to become a middle school teacher. Note that these may vary based on your status as a full-time or part-time student.

Bachelor’s degree (4 to 5 years): To be a teacher at a public school in the U.S., you must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Most bachelor’s degrees can be finished in four years, but if you plan to double-major in education and the subject you wish to teach, it may take some additional time to complete all the additional coursework.

Teacher preparation, including student teaching (1 to 2 years): Most states require that you complete a teacher preparation or credential program prior to becoming a certified teacher. This type of program includes student teaching and typically takes a total of one year to complete. However, if you are participating in a program that also includes a master’s degree, this part of the process may actually take up to two years.

Exams and teacher certification (varies): You may need to do some research to see when the basic teaching skills exams are offered in your area. This may speed-up or delay your anticipated timeline4, depending on the exam schedule. Additionally, when you apply for certification, all teachers are required to undergo a background investigation, which can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on the type of fingerprints taken (digital live-scan or hard copy fingerprint card).

Master’s degree (1 to 3 years): **This is optional! Many teachers decide to begin their careers prior to obtaining a master’s degree. This is a great option for a few reasons. Many teaching master’s programs allow enough flexibility for you to work while you are teaching. Additionally, teachers get an automatic raise in most states for having a master’s degree, so the additional credential will give you an instant pay bump.

Middle school teacher specializations

Becoming a middle school teacher gives you the opportunity to specialize in and teach a specific subject. Below are some paths you may wish to follow.

How to become a middle school math teacher:

A middle school math teacher has a very important role. Middle school core curricula introduce concepts of algebra and complex math problems. Students’ performance in middle school mathematics can impact their success in high school and their college readiness. More importantly, a student’s relationship to middle school-level math can ultimately shape the how they view STEM subjects for the rest of their lives.

If you are interested in taking on the challenge of being a middle school math teacher, one path might be to obtain your bachelor’s degree in mathematics and then complete a teaching credential program or a master’s degree in education. Completing your bachelor’s degree in mathematics will give you the opportunity to focus on in-depth mathematical principles, which will make you a stronger teacher.

How to become a middle school English teacher:

Becoming a middle school English language arts teacher is a great way to get young people excited about classic and contemporary literature. It is also a chance to really make a difference. With the literacy level in the U.S. being of major concern, teaching English in middle school will allow you to make sure that no student falls through the cracks. Just as math teachers ensure a basic understanding of algebra and arithmetic, English teachers provide a strong foundation in basic grammar, reading, and writing. These concepts will set the stage for college preparatory courses in high school.

If you are drawn to teaching middle school language arts, a great option is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in English and follow with a teaching credential program.

How to become a middle school history teacher:

Middle school students are prone to enthusiasm over new subjects. This is why being a middle school history teacher is very rewarding. Middle school is the first time many students will learn about ancient world history, as most history in elementary school covers U.S. history and state and local historical moments. You will have the opportunity to guide students through all of this new and fascinating information.

If you are interested in becoming a middle school history teacher, you might consider obtaining a bachelor’s degree in history or social studies, and enrolling in a teaching credential program.

How to become a middle school science teacher:

Middle school aged students are just starting to develop their abilities to think in the abstract. They are beginning to learn about the earth’s structure and its history, and about the solar system, stars, and galaxies. Students are also beginning to discover life science, physical science, and more complex experimentation. Middle school science teachers play a key role in getting students really excited about these subjects.

To become a middle school science teacher, one option is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in a science field and to complete a teaching credential program.

The path to becoming a middle school teacher: the step-by-step process

The process of becoming a middle school teacher is fairly straightforward, but may carry some differences depending on the subject you wish to teach and the state in which you live. Every state requires that middle school teachers possess a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate. Below we have outlined the general steps you will need to take in order to become a middle school teacher:

Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree in education or in the subject you wish to teach.

Step 2: If required by your state, complete a teacher preparation program and fulfill the student teaching or internship requirement.

Step 3: Pass the basic skills educational exams that are required in your state.

Step 4: Apply for a valid teaching certificate within your state, or the state in which you desire to teach.

Step 5: Apply for middle school teaching jobs and expand your teaching network.

Middle school teacher degree requirements

Middle school teachers must have a bachelor’s degree or higher to teach in the U.S. Ideally, teachers will have a bachelor’s degree in education or a related field. If you wish to be a middle school teacher, but do not have a bachelor’s degree in a field related to education, you may be able to satisfy the college credit requirements through a teaching credential program. Many states already require that you complete this program prior to obtaining a license, but it may be a viable option to make up for college credits you do not have at the bachelor’s level.

Many teachers choose to major in the subject they wish to teach. Taking this route has a positive impact on students, because you will be able to pass on your subject matter expertise in that area. Although not a requirement, once you’ve completed your bachelor’s degree, you may consider completing a master’s degree in education to maximize your teaching skills.

Middle school teacher licensure requirements

State-issued teaching certificates are required for you to teach in any public school in the United States. The major difference between each state is in relation to the minimum qualifications for licensure. It is quite common for states to require some working experience. This can be satisfied through student teaching, which is often part of your bachelor’s in education curriculum or a teacher preparation program. You can also gain additional experience in some states by substitute teaching, or by obtaining an emergency license, which is usually valid for up to one year. Specific license requirements by state can be found at the Education Commission of the States website, which provides a 50-state comparison of teaching licensure.

Middle school teacher responsibilities and work environment

Middle school teachers expand on the basic fundamental principles students learned in elementary school, and also introduce problem-solving and abstract thinking. Middle school teachers also academically and emotionally prepare their students for high school. As a middle school teacher, you will be responsible for developing lesson plans for the subject you are teaching, and for assessing students at the beginning of the year to determine their knowledge level. You will communicate with parents on student progress, and will prepare students for state and federally mandated standardized testing. You will have opportunities to either teach a specific subject area, or to teach all subjects to one class throughout the year. You may also have opportunities at the middle school level to teach specialized classes such as art, music, woodshop, physical education, and English as a second language (ESL).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were approximately 630,000 middle school teacher jobs in 2016. The work environment in this field is very rewarding, as you are given the opportunity to watch children grow and develop new and exciting skills. However, working as a middle school teacher can be stressful, as middle school students are at a tender stage in life. Between the ages of 11 and 13, children experience adolescent egocentrism, which is the inability to differentiate a perspective other than one’s own. This, along with the rapid brain development that occurs prior to puberty, can impact students’ ability to practice self-control. Teachers in this environment must have a deep understanding of adolescent development, and must be willing to shape and mentor middle school students. Given that middle school students are very enthusiastic about learning, the rewards far exceed the stress level.

How much does a middle school teacher make?

According to BLS, the median salary for middle school teachers as of May 2017 was $57,720, with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $38,540, and the highest 10 percent earning more than $91,670. Middle school teacher jobs are also expected to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is the average growth rate for the majority of jobs in the U.S. Furthermore, Glassdoor indicates that the average base pay for middle school teachers in the U.S. is $45,634. The following average salaries are taken with from Payscale, with the assumption of a bachelor’s degree and three years of teaching experience.

CityAverage Annual Salary5-Year Salary Growth
Los Angeles, CA$51,5869 percent
Dallas, TX$51,3038 percent
Philadelphia, PA$48,50215 percent
New York, NY$57,36014 percent
New Orleans, LA$42,101-3 percent

Final thoughts on becoming a middle school teacher

Being a middle school teacher is both challenging and rewarding, which is typically the case for most teaching positions. It takes an extraordinary (and patient!) person to navigate the emotional and cognitive development of middle school students. But there are great rewards inherent in witnessing a child who is genuinely learning and growing.

Hopefully, Noodle has provided some information that will be helpful for you once you start your exciting journey towards becoming a middle school teacher.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


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