Middle school is transformative. Between sixth and eighth grade, young people experience physical changes and a heightened sense of self-consciousness. Socially, they take more cues from their friends than their family or teachers and often feel pressure to adhere to norms. And their moods can fluctuate quickly and intensely.
At the same time, academic routines become quite different in middle school. Classes are more challenging and the subject matter more complex. There are more after-school assignments and often more options for extracurricular activities like sports, theater, and music. Students start to learn the kinds of more advanced skills they’ll need in high school and later in life, such as prioritization and time management.
In the past three years, middle schoolers and middle school teachers have dealt with these changes while also navigating upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Middle schoolers have been at the center of debates about remote learning, masking, vaccines, and quarantining. Many have experienced the grief of losing loved ones.
Middle school teachers support their students through it all. The impact educators have on students at this critical time in their lives remains with them forever. That makes teaching middle school an epic responsibility. For teachers who appreciate the unique perspective middle schoolers bring to the classroom, it’s also gratifying.
As a middle school teacher, you will guide and support students as they experience these and other changes. You will introduce students to foundational course content in history, geography, mathematics, and English, moving on from the basics of general education. Becoming a middle school teacher is an opportunity to shape the lives of future generations and help young people discover their most authentic selves – while also sharing valuable life skills.
Are you a good fit for middle school teaching?
Before you dive into how to become a middle school teacher, you should assess whether this is the right career path for you. Middle school teachers need to be encouraging, empathetic, compassionate, and above all, patient. Students in the middle grades can have attitudes and be disobedient without knowing why they feel driven to act out. But they are looking for guidance and respect like all other students. A truly talented teacher can reach through any defiance and develop ways to connect.
Middle schoolers are sensitive to condescension, so keeping calm is essential in the job. Middle school teachers must also be entertaining to make learning fun and organized to ensure they can keep easily distracted groups of students engaged and on track for entire terms.
If you have these qualities, you can learn the basic skills teachers need and the competencies required to teach one or more content areas. Teacher preparation programs such as the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency provide instruction that shows aspiring teachers how classroom management and lesson planning in middle school are different.
There are specific requirements for becoming a middle school teacher nationwide. You must have a bachelor’s degree and license in the state where you’ll teach or qualify for teacher reciprocity. You must also pass background checks and in many states, have or be in the process of receiving an advanced credential such as a master’s degree in teaching.
Earn a bachelor’s degree
No matter where you want to work in the United States, a bachelor’s degree is the minimum level of education you’ll need to teach in a public school or charter school. While the law typically sets no educational requirements for private school middle school teachers, very few private schools will hire a teacher who lacks an undergraduate degree.
Your bachelor’s need not be in education or even in the subject area you plan to teach. You will need to complete college-level academic work in your discipline to teach, however. If you do not have a bachelor’s degree in your field, you may need to complete a fixed number of course hours in your subject to qualify for licensure. You will also need to complete a state-approved teacher training program to earn your teaching certificate.
The NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency offers pathways to teaching middle school English, history/social studies, mathematics, and science. To qualify for enrollment, you must have completed at least 24 undergraduate credits in your intended subject area, but each discipline has its own admissions requirements, which you can learn about at the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency program website.
Complete your classroom training
A bachelor’s degree alone is not sufficient to earn licensure; you must also complete a student teaching assignment or some other form of apprenticeship. That’s because there is no better teacher than experience. Undergraduates pursuing education degrees typically complete an eight-to-12-week student teaching internship that satisfies the requirement to become a certified teacher. Prospective teachers who did not major in education must also hone their skills in the classroom.
In the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency, students complete one school year of supervised fieldwork assisting an experienced teacher. In the Secondary Education degree path, the support team for residents includes a teaching mentor, residency school site partner staff, the residency director, NYU Steinhardt faculty, and NYU Steinhardt content mentors. Content mentors prepare prospective teachers to teach classes in their specific subject areas. All NYU Steinhardt teacher residents work in urban school districts, helping to address pressing teacher shortages. Urban teacher residencies also empower more prospective teachers of color to work with students of color and help address educational inequity.
This hands-on classroom training is essential, as it provides aspiring public school, charter school, and private school teachers with wraparound support and allows them to address real-world challenges while learning. During the Teacher Residency, residents apply what they’re learning in the course work directly in the classroom, and the program awards a master of arts in teaching degree.
Pass certification exams
Before you begin assigning exams, aspiring teachers have to take some themselves. Each state has teacher certification exam requirements. In New York State, for example, new teachers must pass the Educating All Students test, the edTPA Performance Assessment, and a single subject specialty test relevant to the content they want to teach. Many states use the Praxis Subject Assessments as the primary exams used to validate subject matter expertise.
Obtain your teaching license
Getting licensed is the last step in the qualification process for becoming a middle school teacher. Each state has unique standards when it comes to the teaching credentials that support licensure. Many states have tiered licenses for teachers. Tiered licenses offer goalposts for professional development, recognition, and advancement. New teachers may earn limited preliminary licenses leading to higher-level licensure with experience. That is the case in California, which has a two-tiered teacher licensing system. Other states have more tiers. Wisconsin, for example, has three: initial, professional, and master. The Southern Regional Education Board points out that tiered licensure has many benefits and provides teachers with a clear vision of how they can develop throughout their careers.
Whether or not you teach in a state with a tiered teacher credentialing system, many states require that teachers pursue a minimum number of professional development hours to qualify for license renewal. Completing a master’s degree program typically fulfills this requirement. Because NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residents earn a master of arts in teaching upon completion of the year-long program, they get classroom experience, teacher education, and licensure all in one go.
Apply for teaching jobs
Once you have completed all the other steps to become a middle school teacher, there’s just one thing left: get a job. Due to teacher shortages, there are plenty of open teaching positions at public middle schools. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that job growth for middle school teachers will remain at 4 percent over the next decade, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Your options for employment expand more quickly if you’re willing to relocate after completing a teacher training program or if you want to work in underserved districts. If you have a district in mind that isn’t currently hiring, consider spending some time as a substitute teacher there. That way, you already have your foot in the door when a position opens up.
Make sure to have letters of recommendation and a portfolio of your work on hand before submitting any job applications. You should be as prepared as possible when you begin interviewing, though depending on which teacher training option you choose, you may not have to job hunt at all. If you obtain your teaching master’s in the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency program, you may train in a partner school that requires a post-program commitment. That means you will already have a job lined up at graduation.
Becoming a middle school teacher through the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency program
Learning how to become a middle school teacher is just the first step in a complex journey involving degree programs, teacher education programs, and lifelong professional development. Your next step will be to choose the right program. NYU Steinhardt Teacher Resident alum Ray Badal had a career as a pilot before he ever considered switching to a teaching career. Because he was making a big change, he didn’t want to waste time and leaned toward alternative certification programs. “I wanted the quickest way to get into the classroom,” he said. “However, I wasn’t looking for a program that would funnel me through.”
NYU’s teaching program was optimal for Badal, now a middle school social studies teacher, and others like him because it is fast-paced and comprehensive. Residents spend between 600 and 1,400 hours in the classroom – depending on whether they choose a full-time or part-time placement – and work with an experienced mentor. At the same time, residents learn pedagogy and classroom management to connect theory with practice in education courses that meet department of education guidelines for teacher training.
The Secondary Education Curriculum includes course work on teaching students with disabilities and special needs, designing culturally relevant curricula and lesson plans, and drafting formal and informal assessments to measure students’ comprehension. NYU Steinhardt places particular importance on teaching all students and fostering equity and acceptance in the classroom. At least 60 percent of teacher residents each year are teachers of color, compared to the national average of 21 percent.
Because every grade level presents different challenges, supervised teaching experience is an invaluable element of the education requirements for teaching certification. As an NYU Steinhardt resident, you will receive wraparound support, so you can excel in middle school classrooms from day one. Teaching the challenging middle grades isn’t for everyone, but if becoming a middle school teacher is your dream, contact an NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency enrollment advisor today or learn more about the application process online.