Saturday, February 7, 2015

Discovering my passion/ A case for departmentalized teaching

(Disclaimer:  The opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and not representative of my campus, department, or district.  I am not, nor do I wish to be, an administrator at any level who has to deal with the intricacies of master schedules, district expectations, and state requirements...thank goodness.)

I had a wild and woolly Friday in the library.  I work with six different grade levels on Fridays.  My assistant was taking a much deserved day off, and I scrambled between morning assembly, teaching lessons, doing read-alouds, running Bluebonnet Breakfast invitations, and trying to keep up with the books that were being returned for check-in and shelving.  My principal happened to stop in for two classes in the library, and I received a really nice note from her about my contributions to the library and the school.

It was in my reply to her that I verbalized why I really like my job--I get to focus on two areas I am passionate about, print and digital literacy.  Never before in my educational career have I felt so empowered to really teach on those topics.  

That's not to say that I wasn't passionate about education while I was teaching in a resource classroom and ARD facilitating.  I was passionate about my students' learning, and making sure students receiving special education received appropriate services.  But I can honestly say that I was worn down by the paperwork, testing mandates, pressure to meet all the curricular and physical and emotional needs of my students in the much-interrupted 175 days, 745a-245p days of school.  That determined candle was worn down to a stub from burning it at both ends. And part of that stress was teaching curriculum that I wasn't completely comfortable with, that didn't align with how I would approach the content area to meet my students' needs.

But now I'm a librarian.  And I get to focus on reading and information literacy.  I have learned that no matter what the subject, life experience and reading comprehension are the heart of success.  Math at the elementary level consists of understanding the vocabulary:  addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, 2-D, 3-D, volume, perimeter, area.  It's also comprehending what a word problem--emphasis on "word"--is asking you to solve.  That's reading.  Social studies and science follow suit; it all boils down to literacy skills.

With this newfound purpose, I feel fired up going to work everyday.  And I get nice comments from my administrators and colleagues as a result.  A win-win!

So what does this have to do with departmentalized teaching?  Some colleagues and I were just discussing this at the circulation desk this week.  When one feels passionate AND confident in a subject area, it affects your performance.  There is a palpable energy that is communicated to your learning audience.  Your creative juices flow, students are engaged, authentic learning happens.

We expect elementary teachers to be jacks-of-all-trades, a feat which many are able to admirably pull off. But ask a teacher what they feel most confident teaching, and I bet it will be a specific subject. And there shouldn't be any shame in that.

We can collaborate and share lessons 'til the cows come home, but teaching someone else's lesson in a subject that's not your niche doesn't always have the same zing as one you've developed, and it requires a lot more effort.  I liken it to being an actor on a stage, reciting the playwright's words--only actors get LOTS of rehearsal time to hone their delivery.  Teachers don't really have that luxury in the curriculum-packed, high-stakes testing environment they work in today.  Maybe after teaching the same lesson a few years in a row...but really?  Do we really want to wait that long before it "clicks"?

Why don't we consider allowing teachers to teach to their strengths, their passions, instead?  Let's make room for teaching and learning to "click" from the get-go. That's not to say that we teachers shouldn't stretch ourselves to model lifelong learning for our students, but let's not allow that to get in the way of focused, empowered, creative teaching.

What do you think?  Should elementary ed teachers be allowed to departmentalize? Chime in the comments section below!

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