Today I completed my 5th year of teaching as an adjunct instructor at a nearby university. Every summer for the past 5 years I have taught two classes in the Middle Level Master of Arts program. The two classes I teach are Meeting the Diverse Needs of Middle Level Learners and Middle Level Curriculum. The 6 credits are taught in three weeks, and they are fast-paced weeks!
This year, as in all others, I am left in awe of the tremendous learning that my students pack in. Between the two classes, there are 5 required texts, all of them packed with valuable information and teaching strategies. The reflections that my learners turn in at the end show the way their thinking around middle school curriculum and teaching strategies have changed. But I also feel sorry for my students this year. Situations in educate in my state have led to a dramatic decrease in the number of teachers seeking to further their education with a middle level masters degree. In my first 2 summers, I had classes of 12 and 14. But these numbers have decreased so that this summer I had 6 students for one class, and although it is best to take the two classes together, it is not necessary. My afternoon class, therefore, had 5 students.
The lower number of students means that they are missing out on substantive conversation that comes from having more voices in the classroom. All of our tasks this year were completed in record time, and I really missed those one one or two "devil's advocate" voices.
Today, the class and I brainstormed with the department head what might be the causes of diminishing numbers in the middle level program. We all agree that university costs are exorbitant, but beginning teachers still have to complete 18 hours in 3 years. Other departments are not experiencing the same struggles. The one possible answer we came up with is that the dismal financial situations facing most school districts has caused most to put the middle level concept on the chopping block. It takes more staff to be able to have common planning time, advisory, and flexible scheduling. It seems that teachers think if their school doesn't follow the middle school concept, the masters program is not right for them. But this is faulty thinking! If anything, middle school kids need qualified middle level educators who understand their developmental characteristics and needs now more than ever!
I will discuss these ideas more in my next post. Stay tuned!