The Desire to Learn: Outstanding Faculty Award
By Erika Mantz, Media Relations
February 14, 2007
Michael Middleton prefers to focus on the energy part of adolescence,
but he isn’t one to shy away from the angst of it either.
“My favorite days are when I’m out in the middle schools
with my interns and their students,” he says. “I can’t
imagine working with any other group. Early adolescents still want
to build strong relationships with their teachers and peers, but they
also have rich experiences in their own lives that they bring to the
classroom along with boundless energy. They are starting to struggle
with questions like who am I, how good am I, and where am I going.
I can’t think of more meaningful work than helping them figure
out those issues.”
Middleton, who joined the faculty in 2001, has established himself
as a national leader in the field of educational psychology, introducing
a new area of research on how students are motivated to learn. His
interest in the topic was sparked by his first job out of college.
With an undergraduate degree in psychology and the encouragement of
a friend, Middleton found himself teaching students, who were anything
but motivated, at an alternative high school .
“I watched many of those kids blossom and succeed when they
were given the ‘right’ classroom context,” Middleton
says. “And then I saw the opposite while teaching some college
students who went from being stars in high school to unknowns in college.
It led me to question how people are motivated. I’ve learned
a lot by looking at groups that have traditionally been thought to
be unmotivated. I’ve discovered that people are most motivated
when focused on improving, rather than proving, themselves.”
Middleton ought to know, because it’s what brought him to UNH. “This
is a place that respects quality research and expects it,” he
said. “It’s a supportive environment where senior colleagues
really want to see young faculty succeed.”
Succeed he has. For the last two years he has directed the teacher
education program in Manchester while teaching full time and serving
on countless committees. In one research project, he’s working
with a doctoral student on the use of dialogue journals in writing
classrooms and on a grant with education colleagues to implement teaching
coaches in schools. Three of his articles have appeared in the Journal
of Educational Psychology, and recently, he joined the journal’s
editorial board. As a University Outreach Scholar, he works with two
engineering faculty members to look at girls’ participation in
math and science as a result of their participation in the LEGO competitions.
Middleton also helped start and develop the University’s summer
Middle School Institute.
This fall, for the second time, Middleton will teach a first-year
Inquiry class he designed, but with a twist. (Inquiry courses prepare
first-year students to succeed at the college level.) The 25 first-year
students taking Middleton’s class will not only study and learn
together but also live together on their own floor in Lord Hall and
run a homework help room for local middle school students.
“I do best at a place where I feel a part of things,” Middleton
says with a laugh. “I won’t be living with the students
in the dorm, but Chelsea and I will probably attend a few dorm events.” His
constant companion, Chelsea, is a golden retriever/giant schnauzer
mix who is almost as popular a member of the education department as
Middleton has served on the University’s judicial board and
as an academic adviser. As cochair of the President’s Commission
on the Status of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues for
two years, he worked on the community’s response to protests
against the ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson and to get gender identity
and expression added to the University’s nondiscrimination policies.
“As a member of a minority group, it’s important not
to shut the door behind you. A community can best be judged on how
it treats its most disenfranchised group,” Middleton said.
Or, its least motivated.