Middle School Organization & Programs

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

In this lesson we discuss various ways that a middle school can take on organization, as well as concepts and programs that help facilitate this process.

An Important Time

Middle school is that short but important transition time between elementary school and high school. It is often a time when students make personal choices about some of the activities in which they would like to participate in. These choices can affect them for a lifetime.

In the olden days, the transition from elementary school was rather abrupt and drastic. However, over the years, educators began to see the benefits of 'softening' the transition as students made that often awkward move from childhood toward adulthood.

But what is the ideal philosophy for organizing middle school? What should be the overall organization, and what programs should be involved? Many educators believe that a fine tightrope must be walked. First, this is when a pupil is allowed more independence and freedom. On the other hand, it is desirable that teachers and students work in small teams and groups so that each child is closely monitored and receives the maximum possible amount of attention.

The direct teaching model used in the past involved the teacher standing at the front of the class and lecturing while the students took notes. Now, middle schools use a child-centered approach to learning. This means that classes should be a democracy and utilize hands-on, problem-based learning.

Team Teaching Programs

Many middle schools are now employing the team teaching methodology. For example, with the one teach/one assist method (or one teach/one observe method), an instructor lectures at the front of the class, while another instructor roams the room and answers students' questions.

The National Middle School Association (NMSA) itself recommends teams of only two to three members. Why is this? Teams of four or more members tend to have too many opinions and too many personality clashes, and thus things often don't get accomplished.


Did you know that school principals now have a larger workload and take on much more responsibility than in the past? They must answer to virtually everyone in the community, in addition to state and federal governments. They must also be motivators and managers, but at the same time may lack expertise in all the academic fields or schooling in the latest teaching methods.

This is why the teacher-leader concept is gaining popularity at the middle school level. It allows teachers to assume more power and to avoid being stagnant over the course of a long career.

The two teacher-leader models are:

  • Formal teacher
    • Instructional coach
    • Department chair
    • Master teacher
  • Informal teacher
    • No delegated authority but commands respect

Roles of the Teacher-Leader

What does the teacher-leader do each day? Like a principal, she does a little bit of everything during the course of a hectic school day. She may answer questions and give feedback to other teachers. She may lead a teacher-based advisory program, coordinate reading programs, or serve on a school district team that deals with curricula and evaluations. She may attend, or even give presentations, at state conferences or in some cases national conferences.

Exploratory Programs

The NMSA desires that exploratory programs are challenging and integrate many interests and varieties of courses. These entail courses that differ from the core courses of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Courses and activities may include:

  • Art
  • Clubs
  • Internet and Technology
  • Languages
  • Music

Furthermore, in the exploratory programs model, many of the concepts of team teaching still apply. Teachers are facilitators as opposed to stern lecturers. Students engage in problem-based learning, with an emphasis on doing and participating instead of just listening. Also, courses are often shorter for the changing needs, interests, and attention spans of the middle schooler.

Self-Contained Versus Departmentalized Organization

One issue facing middle schools is that each school district seems to have an organization model that combines various grades. While some consist of only seventh and eighth graders, others may also include sixth and ninth graders. Also, some districts refer to grades 6-8 as middle school, while others refer to grades 7-9 as junior high.

Furthermore, as elementary students we spent the day in a self-contained situation involving one classroom, while in high school we spent the day shuffling off to six or seven classes.

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