This blog post has resonated with so many specialists. Whether you are a classroom teacher or a specialist you may find this post has something to think about. It is a beginning for a dialogue that should lift all of us, encourage us, and help us teach better and reach more- with respect for one another.
Let me explain. I taught fifth grade and then third grade for 26 years total. (Third grade was my favorite!) Then I switched to being our school’s STEM Lab teacher.
Instantly I became a SPECIALIST. Three grade levels, fifteen total classes, every student in the school.
I had no idea what I was getting into. I just knew I loved science and designing and problem-solving and watching kids work.
Let me just tell you, The Specialist World is different. So, as you read this post keep an open mind. I chose my words carefully as I wrote this. I mean absolutely no disrespect for my classroom teachers. I was one for many, many years. I made some of these mistakes, too!
So, here’s what we consider to be a Specialist… It’s the Librarian, Art teacher, Music teacher, Drama teacher, PE teacher, STEM Lab teacher, Counselor. It’s those fabulous teachers that keep your kids for 30 minutes, 45 minutes, or a full hour, probably just once a week. (Except for PE.) I thought about this for a long time before writing it all down. But, I did narrow it down to five things to think about. Many of these are things other specialists have talked to me about.
- A specialist’s class is 100% engagement- all the time.
- Specialists have a lot of students. Like all of them.
- The schedule for a specialist’s class is jam-packed.
- The specialist’s class is a real class.
- My class is more than just fun.
A specialist’s class is 100% engagement- all the time.
This one is hard to mention because I know, I know, I know that classroom teachers run themselves crazy and also have days where they never sit down. But, y’all that is every day for me. When I have students, they are with me for a full hour and I am 100% engaged with them the entire time. There is no downtime, no small group time, no sit at my desk and grade papers, no one-on-one time with a student. I move constantly, I am easily getting 10,000 steps a day. I feel sure the specialists in your building are the same. Now, I know you work equally hard and take just as many steps, but…..
As a former classroom teacher, I know there were times my students had seat work and I sat at my center table and worked on paperwork or worked, while sitting down, with one or two students. Specialists don’t really do that. This seemed to be the number one thing that all my specialist friends agree on. Our classrooms have a tight schedule and we stay busy (at least I do)!
So, just know that when you meet me at the door and I am frazzled it’s because I need a bathroom break or a few minutes to clean up before the next class comes in. Please don’t be mad because you have to wait a minute or two! I have classes back to back and with a switch in grade levels, so my planning and prep time has to be super-efficient in order to be ready as classes arrive. I love it when the classroom teachers offer to help or send in students to help get set up for the next class!
Specialists have a lot of students. Like all of them.
I don’t know about all specialists, but I can tell you that the ones in my building have trouble, just like me, with remembering all the kids’ names! I have 350+ students. I remember some of them easily and you can guess which ones. However, there are so many that I have to really work on to remember the names. I practice in the hallway and I try to call them by name when I can because I know it’s important to the kids. I resort to all kinds of memory tricks to try to remember names, but this is something I am not good at anyway. And when there are twins with similar sounding names that also dress alike every day….gah!
I have one really good friend at my school and when I talk to her about her students she can always tell that I can’t remember which kid she is talking about. She is really good at describing kids for me so I can figure out who we are discussing!
One other tiny thing is that I don’t always have the same connections with students that the regular classroom teacher has. I see students in a completely different way due to the nature of my classroom. Some students do very well in STEM and not so great in their classroom. Some are the other way around. I do miss those personal connections with kids, but in a one hour class, we don’t always have time to get to know everyone. So, if you know of a family concern or something else that might be bothering a student, please share that with me. Then I will understand why a kid is being super quiet, or angry, or is crying. Parents don’t contact specialists, so we have to rely on our teachers to keep us informed!
The schedule for a specialist’s class is jam-packed.
This is probably number 2 on the list of what specialists will agree upon. Please deliver your class on time and all together. Please. When a few kids straggle in late, for whatever reason, it interrupts my lesson and hinders us from getting started. My class time is limited and it helps me so much for kids to get there!
Here’s a great example of my own personal boo-boo with our specialists: A few years ago I started having student-led conferences in my third-grade classroom. I scheduled a few of these during the kids’ specials because that is when I had a break. I figured missing music or drama was not a problem and we could have a nice conference time. After a few conferences, one of the specialists pulled me aside and sweetly let me know that the students were missing her lessons.
Now, I completely understand what she meant. When I have STEM class prepared and supplies out and ready and kids are missing or ten minutes late, it does matter. It’s a little, maybe a tad not very respectful to the specialist. Just something to think about!
The specialist’s class is a real class.
I know you love field trips! And I know the kids do, for sure. Here’s the thing. When your class is gone on a field trip and you are missing my class, I totally get it. I try to reschedule those missed classes when I can, but it doesn’t always fit with my schedule. Sometimes you just miss your special.
So, what is my point?
Let’s just say you go on a short trip and return to school, with say, ten minutes left of my scheduled time with your class. No, it is not alright to deliver them to my door for a ten-minute class. It is disrespectful to me and my time and any lesson I might wish to have with them. Please don’t do this to me!
Although I focused this on field trips, it applies to school assemblies or special occasions, too. Here’s an idea- send one student to me and inquire about the class for that day. I can then decide if I need to see the class for a short time- possibly to get some ideas and planning started and we can continue the following week. Or I can politely say, “Let’s skip this week.”
My class is more than just fun.
This happens occasionally. Students misbehave in their regular classroom and since a special is “fun” the attendance is withheld as a punishment. Wow.
Does this really work for these kids?
No, it doesn’t and it makes me think my class is so unimportant that it is considered only fluff and fun and can be missed easily. And, quite frankly, it makes the kids think that, too.
So, there you have it, my teacher friends. You may agree with me completely or totally disagree. I have walked both paths, as a regular classroom teacher and a specialist. I understand both sides and I hope I have given you a different perspective to think about.
As you can see from reading through the comments left below, dialogue needs to happen with specialists and the classroom teachers. Mutual understanding and respect can happen. And who wins? That’s an easy answer! Your students win. And that is the reason we arrive at the school each day.