Classroom Teacher → Specialist → Classroom Teacher

I was asked to fill in for a fifth grade teacher who was going out on medical leave, beginning on February 1, 2017. Therefore, I would temporarily leave my K-5 STEM Specialist position to assume my former fifth grade math/science classroom teaching position. In fact, I would be going back to my exact classroom and joining my former teammate of three years. Nonetheless, switching from a specialist teacher back to a classroom teacher has been challenging. I’m living this transition, and I’m embracing it as a dynamic learning opportunity. Come fly with me! Interact with my journey as I blog a series of reflections. 

2002—2015 5th Grade Math/Science
2015—January 31, 2017 K-5 STEM Specialist
February 1, 2017—Present 5th Grade Math/Science

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And I was given the opportunity to inform our school in a recent staff meeting:

“Out of many dolphins, we are one pod. We are like a family: we laugh; cry; fight; and celebrate. Just like a really big family. And when a family member goes down, we need to help. There is a need right now in fifth grade with [a teacher] out for medical reasons. And so I am happy to serve the dolphin family by filling [this teacher’s] position, starting on February 1st.”

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Being a specials teacher was a galaxy away from my classroom teaching days. A classroom teacher has the same set of students for longer periods each day, or at least sees the same set of students each day. As a specialist, I saw each K-5 class once a week. By the time the intro, setup, and cleanup were allotted, about thirty-five minutes of learning opportunities remained per class. Check it out:

Position Number of Students Time with Students
5th Grade Math/Science 58 (2 classes of 29 switch) 2 hours/class/day
K-5 STEM Specialist 1,000+ (every K-5 student) 45 min/class/week

I’d like to say how I greeted each and every student by name during their STEM special—and that would sound great in a twitter chat or a blog—but that’s not true. I can guarantee that I went to extra efforts, and I knew hundreds, but—C’mon. How can you memorize over 1,000 student names? If the specialist route is so great, as in less-workload-than-classroom-teacher-same-pay, then what was missing? As a long-time classroom teacher turned specialist, I recognized the lacking area very quickly. And because teaching is a heart thing, let’s talk about the R-word:

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Educators build and strengthen relationships and have meaningful learning experiences with students every day. And if teachers don’t realize this, they may wish to explore other career endeavors. 

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As a specialist, I didn’t get to form deep relationships with the same set of students every day. And not only with the students, but also with their families. Having served the same community for thirteen years as a classroom teacher, I have had two, three, and even four siblings of the same family. What a blessing! I was a aware of the importance and impacts of building strong relationships. In fact, you can’t experience a one-hour twitter chat without an educator expressing the need for building relationships with students.

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But I didn’t really understand until our annual fifth grade DC Here We Come parent-chaperone meeting. During this meeting, fifth grade teachers inform parents about the entire field trip experience, including our rooming at The National 4-H Youth Conference Center. At the conclusion of the meeting, each fifth grade teacher stands in a different part of the cafeteria, and parents meet and get-to-know their child’s future adult roommates.

For thirteen years, I was in charge of my homeroom’s bus and well-being. During my rookie year as a specialist, I was asked to attend the 2016 trip (my fourteenth overall) as a helper. And then the moment of truth came: the end of the 2016 parent-chaperone meeting. And it was eye-opening.

All of the parents went to their child’s homeroom teachers. And no one–not even one–came to me for questions, info, or even to say hello. In fact, two teachers asked me to run errands to the office, and I was voluntold to clean up after the meeting. What’s going on?

comeflywithme5 I knew OF these fifth grade students and families, but I didn’t really KNOW them. We didn’t have long periods of time and efforts invested in each other; several hours of learning experienced together; and we definitely didn’t build and strengthen deep relationships. So… Why would they approach ME? I get it now–More than ever. It was never about me, but it was awkward feeling so… disconnected.

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No matter in which role you serve students, relationships really DO matter. Make your learning experiences wonderful–and special–for our students. Our kids deserve it.