Teacher Preferences for Middle Grades: Insights into Attracting Teacher Candidates

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Stony Brook University]On: 27 October 2014, At: 05:53Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies,Issues and IdeasPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/vtch20

    Teacher Preferences for Middle Grades: Insights intoAttracting Teacher CandidatesRich A. Radcliffe a & Thomas F. Mandeville aa Texas State UniversitySan MarcosPublished online: 07 Aug 2010.

    To cite this article: Rich A. Radcliffe & Thomas F. Mandeville (2007) Teacher Preferences for Middle Grades: Insights into AttractingTeacher Candidates, The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 80:6, 261-266

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.3200/TCHS.80.6.261-266

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  • e need more middle grades teacher candi-dates in our teacher preparation program,

    is a phrase that has troubled me for a decade during my tenure at three universities located in western, cen-tral, and southern states. Our peers, also middle-level teacher educators, share this concern. When addressing large groups of freshmen bound for teaching careers, I encounter hordes already committed to the elementary grades and large contingents of content-focused candi-dates seeking high school positions. In my region, mid-dle school principals desperately seek candidates with specialized middle grades preparation and my graduat-ing preservice middle grades teachers often enjoy mul-tiple job offers.

    A review of the literature concerning teacher short-ages, particularly middle school teachers, yields dis-couraging information. Howard (2003) cites the U.S.

    Department of Education estimate that approximately 2.2 million teachers will need to be replaced over the next decade (U.S. Department of Education 1999). McAuliffe (2003) reports that the supply of teachers is more critical today than in the previous twenty-four years. Looking to the future, Gursky (2001) predicts a demographic train wreck ahead and Bracey (2002) sug-gests that we are in for a double whammy because of retirement and high preretirement turnover. Teacher shortages are reported in the southern and western states while surpluses exist in the Northeast and North-west.

    Although the supply and demand for teachers varies regionally, shortages exist in some specialization areas (Howard 2003), including middle school. Johnston (n.d.), reporting that a teacher shortage hits the middle grades with a special vengeance, suggests that many mid-dle school teachers have originally prepared for another level and leap at the chance to move out of the middle grades. Jackson and Davis (2000) describe the need for specialized middle grades preparation and cite studies in which researchers found that fewer than 25 percent of middle grades teachers received specialized preparation. Useem, Barends, and Lindermayer (1999) found that in many states, middle grades teacher licensure or endorse-ment is voluntary or is available with little or no special-ized professional preparation. In a report commissioned by The Southern Regional Education Board Cooney (2000) describes the acute need to improve the quality of teachers in the middle grades. McEwin, Dickinson, and Smith (2002) state that middle-level principals found it difficult, if not impossible, to find teachers with specialized knowledge in the middle grades.

    Teacher Preferences for Middle Grades

    Insights into Attracting Teacher Candidates

    RICH A. RADCLIFFE and THOMAS F. MANDEVILLE

    Rich A. Radcliffe, PhD, is an associate professor at Texas State UniversitySan Marcos. Thomas F. Mandeville, PhD, has most recently been on the faculty at Texas State Univer-

    sitySan Marcos and Walden University as an associate professor. Copyright 2007 Heldref Publications

    261

    Abstract: Shortages of middle-level teacher candidates may cause teacher educators to recruit candidates by focusing on what attracts and discourages candidates about teach-ing at the middle level. The authors used a survey approach (n = 110) to investigate why preservice middle school and high school teachers and in-service middle school teachers chose the middle grades. The results included ten common reasons that the respondents favored the middle grades and ten major concerns about this level. Three attractions to the middle gradesstudent age, content level, and employment marketand common beliefs about positive teacherstudent relationships and students maturity may guide teacher educa-tors in their efforts to increase middle grades program enroll-ment.

    Keywords: attractions, concerns, middle school, recruiting teacher candidates

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  • These recommendations for specialized middle grades preparation occur amidst much discussion of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and controversy over what constitutes a highly qualified teacher. One viewpoint of teacher competence maintains the sin-gular importance of content knowledge. As explained by Walsh (2004), federal lawmakers created NCLB to respond in part to strong research evidence that teach-ers subject matter knowledge contributed to greater student learning. Porter-Magee (2004) describes the NCLB legislation as a shift away from certification that includes student teaching and pedagogy courses, man-dating that teachers demonstrate content knowledge (27). According to Erb (2004), NCLB does not require a teacher candidate to provide more than preliminary evidence of teaching competence to receive the appel-lation highly qualified (4). Laczko-Kerr and Berliner (2002) stress the importance of pedagogy, not just con-tent. There is a growing consensus that middle-level teachers should have specialized preparation based on McEwin, Dickinson, and Smith (2003). A study by McEwin, Dickinson, and Hamilton (2000) found that National Board Certified Early Adolescence/Generalist teachers believe that specialized preparation of middle-level teachers is important and desirable. The call for specialized preparation predates the NCLB legislation (McEwin 1996; McEwin and Dickinson 1997; McEwin et al. 1997). In summary, many educators advocate for pedagogy as well as content preparation and continue to stress the importance of middle grades specialized programs.

    Concern about shortages of teachers with specialized middle grades preparation may lead teacher educators to question how to recruit more candidates. Thornton (2004) calls for a thorough examination of how to attract middle grades teachers. According to Bracey (2002), we need to recruit more teachers and find better ways to retain them. Wattington et al. (2004) recommend research studies to further inform the field to assist with teacher recruitment. While discussing the continuing need to advocate for specialized prepara-tion of middle school teachers, Gaskill (2002) suggests that our job may become more difficult with the pro-jected teacher shortage.

    A need clearly exists to recruit more teacher candi-dates into specialized middle-level teacher preparation programs. An understanding of why teachers choose the middle grades may help teacher educators bet-ter recruit middle-level teacher candidates. Clement (2004) points out the importance of knowing the reasons that teachers give for entering the profession. The literature identifies many reasons people choose a teaching career, including positive teacherstudent relationships (Shann 1998), intrinsic rewards such as seeing a child develop (Latham 1998), the ability to shape the future (Nieto 2003), and needs for autonomy

    and creativity (Williams 2003). A review of current literature is less informative concerning why teachers specifically choose to teach the middle grades.

    In this study, we investigate what preservice middle school and high school teachers and in-service middle school teachers find attractive or discouraging about teaching in todays middle grades. An understanding of this may guide us, and other middle-level educators, in our efforts to attract teacher candidates to a middle grades preparation program.

    Method

    Participants

    In this study, we followed a descriptive design that used a questionnaire to investigate teacher perceptions. Participants were middle school (n = 35) and high school (n = 32) preservice teachers enrolled in level-specific professional development school (PDS) pro-grams at a large university and taking courses that were held at two public middle school and one high school PDS site(s). The three schools, one rural, one suburban, and one urban, are located in different school districts. Approximately two-thirds of the preservice teachers were Caucasian, a few were black, and the balance was Hispanic. We also included experienced middle grades teachers (n = 43) from two public school PDS sites. The majority of these teachers were female (77 percent) and Caucasian (95 percent), with experience levels that included fewer than five years (19 percent), between five and ten years (36 percent), and more than ten years (45 percent). The teachers taught a population that included 33 percent economically disadvantaged students with a distribution of 41 percent Hispanic and 54 percent Caucasian students.

    Instrumentation

    The questionnaire included eighteen Likert-type items such as I am interested in teaching the middle grades because I like working with the middle grades age group. The instrument also included five open-ended questions: (1) Why do you want to teach in the middle grades? (2) What do you perceive as possible disadvantages to teaching in the middle grades? (3) Why not teach in the elementary grades? (4) Why not teach in high school? and (5) What experiences have you had with middle-grade students prior to teaching? We designed the questionnaire on the basis of a prior unpublished study by one of the researchers that used in-depth interviews with preservice teachers (n = 4) and a fourteen-item survey of preservice teachers (n = 57) to determine what attracted them to the middle grades.

    Procedure

    We gave questionnaires to preservice teachers in their classes and delivered them to principals with a

    262 The Clearing House July/August 2007

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  • Vol. 80, No. 6 Preferences for Middle Grades 263

    TABLE 1. Response Mean Scores and Standard Deviations for Choosing Middle School and High School Levels

    Preservice In-service Preservice Preservice middle grade middle grade high school high school teacher teacher teachera teacherb

    Reason M(SD) M(SD) M(SD) M(SD)

    Prefer age group 4.73 (.52) 4.66 (.48) 3.23 (1.45) 4.55 (.68)Prefer content level 4.91 (.38) 4.63 (.59) 3.22 (1.21) 4.52 (.77)Like employment market 4.03 (1.02) 2.90 (1.21) * 3.23 (1.28)Have prior experience with this level students 3.85 (1.46) 2.86 (1.58) * 2.97 (1.74)Attracted because of positive experiences at this level 3.61 (1.46) 3.09 (1.36) * 3.74 (1.34)

    Note. n = 110. The score range was 1 to 5; Agree to a great extent = 5; Agree to a modest extent = 4; Agree to a small extent = 3; Neither agree or disagree = 2; and Disagree = 1.aThoughts about middle school; bThoughts about high school.* Was not addressed in the survey.

    TABLE 2. Top Ten Reasons Respondents Choose to Teach the Middle Grades

    Rank Category description for reason No. of responses

    1 Curriculum content 482 Students age 373 Students developmental issues 344 Can relate to student 315 Can influence the student 286 Students ability to think at a high level 227 Students ability to talk and discuss ideas 228 Students level of motivation 209 Students ability to work independently 1510 Professional ability as a teacher of this group 14

    Note. n = 110.

    TABLE 3. Top Ten Reasons to Not Teach the Middle Grades

    Rank Category description for reason No. of responses

    1 Students age 242 Curriculum content 233 Disciplinary issues 174 Students attitude 165 Students developmental issues 146 Babysitting experience 107 Ability to influence the student 108 Hormones and puberty issues 109 Students motivation 910 Students emotional state 8

    Note. n = 110.

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  • request to distribute the instrument to teachers. Sixty-seven preservice teachers and forty-three in-service teachers returned usable surveys. The response rates for the preservice middle grades teachers was 100 percent, the preservice high school teachers was 91 percent, and the inservice middle grades teachers was 86 percent.

    ResultsWe tabulated the data from the open-ended ques-

    tions using Excel software and analyzed them by iden-tifying keywords in each response. Based on keywords, we logged the responses into one or more categories such as age, development, and hormones. We analyzed the responses to the Likert-type questions using SPSS (14.0 for Windows) computer software.

    Table 1 summarizes the participants responses to key Likert-type questions about what attracted them to teach at the middle grades or high school level. Responses to the open-ended questions are reported in table 2, which includes a ranking of the top ten reasons why respondents choose to teach the middle grades, and in table 3, which lists a ranking of the top ten reasons that discourage teachers from teaching at the middle level.

    DiscussionThe results suggest that perceptions about students

    age, content levels, and...

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