An Ode To “Specials” Teachers

After a faculty meeting yesterday, our music teacher made a thoughtful remark about how providing what each child needs at their different developmental ages and stages is one of the things that makes being a specialist so challenging. Having been a specialist myself once, as I prepared to transition into the homeroom and as I received some interesting responses to my move from specialist to homeroom teacher. What specialists do is uniquely challenging and takes a great deal of skill, energy, and thought.

I’ve been really surprised how many people saw move from science to a homeroom classroom as a professional step UP in the world of education. It seems that because children transition in and out of a “specials” (I put it in quote because I’m really not a fan of the term) classroom it is perceived as less valuable or challenging. I think teachers struggle enough out there in the big wide world to garner respect (genuine respect, not the “oh, I really respect what you do” cursory remarks) that for a specials teacher to have to go the extra mile to earn it is a shame!

These are some unique challenges that specials teachers face:

  • They need to create a learning environment that is both functional and transitional. Their space needs to be appropriate for a variety of different age ranges. Materials need to  be accessible to all learners that come in and out of the room.
  • They need to create routines that work for different ages to move into the space, around the space, and out of the space in a safe and clean way.
  • They need to  be able to create, maintain, and repair when necessary a strong sense of community that is, by nature, transitional. Any given class can come to your room in different emotional, mental, and physical conditions. Your expectations for them need to be such that they can feel emotionally safe moving to your space and that their community of learners is maintained.
  • They need to meaningfully know a hundred or more learners at very different developmental stages, different personalities, and different life situations. They need to differentiate, customize the learning experience, and engage so many children in meaningful and connective ways.
  • They need to be able to create and maintain strong professional relationships with other faculty so that the above goals can be achieved.
  • They go to more meetings because their teaching fingers are in so many places!

Overall, being a specials teacher is one of the most interpersonal jobs in a school. The sheer number of people (students, parents, faculty) they need to relate with successfully in order to make the children’s learning meaningful and successful is astounding. They don’t all assign homework, they don’t welcome or dismiss the children to homeroom, they don’t do parent conferences, but they deserve (in my personal, and certainly thoroughly biased, opinion!) to be treated as professional equals in the world of educators.

Educators all who are specialists (art, music, language, physical education, dance, etc.) ought to be proud of the ways they are able to stretch themselves for all kinds of children. Specialists step outside of themselves and into the world of students to connect with them and build a bridge for them to cross to their subject matter. Specialists partner with homeroom teachers as all strive to know each child and support them in their growth as learners and people. Specialists are often unsung and under-appreciated heroes in the educational world, we could not be who we are as teachers or as a learning community without them, and children’s lives would be less rich as well.

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