Middle school teachers across the state earn an average of $1,000 less than their elementary school and high school counterparts, according to a Utah Education Association report.

The average state salary for an elementary-school teacher is $32,011. For a high-school teacher, it's $32,028. The middle-level average teacher salary is $30,838, the report said.Laurie Chivers, state deputy superintendent of schools and a former middle-school teacher, said many new teachers take middle-school slots and then work their way up from there.

"There's an upside and a downside to this," Chivers said. "We get a lot of fresh new faces, but we also get teachers without a lot of experience. It's a concern we hope we're addressing."

At Box Elder District's Bear River Middle School, Bonnie Palmer said teachers there know that middle school is the hardest level to teach.

"It's challenging," she said. "These kids aren't children, but they're not teenagers. I've had a lot of friends say they'd never touch middle school because it's so difficult."

Middle school teachers say they hear the same comments.

"Since day one, people told me I was crazy when I told them I wanted to teach middle school," said Steven Merkley, a math teacher at Ogden's Mount Ogden Middle School. "Kids are going through major changes, you don't get a chance to know them, and they're coming from five or six different schools to this school. They're still trying to find themselves."

Chivers said schools have moved toward team teaching and block teach-ing, in which the same group of teachers advance with students to the next grade level, to help students feel more comfortable in their new worlds.

Palmer said class size is also an issue. Teachers don't want to have to teach a class full of 36 pre-teens. But the situation should improve since the Legislature this year set money aside for middle school class-size reductions.