Leadership · Curriculum · Lifelong Learning

So far, I’ve served in two different roles. After teaching fifth grade math and science for fourteen years, I’m in my third year as a STEM Specialist. While both are dream positions, they’re very different from each other. In previous blogs, I’ve enjoyed highlighting many aspects along my journey. In this post, however, I’m digging deeper into one.

I admit it. When transitioning from a classroom teacher to a specials position, I did not fully anticipate was how sharp the contrast in management would be.

My Logistics At A Glance

Classroom Teacher: ~30 Students2 hoursRepeat 1 TimeEvery Day180 days

Specials Teacher: ~25 Students45 minRepeat 6 TimesEvery 7 Days180 days

See the difference?

How we unpack these variations means everything. In fact, I’d argue that how we manage our roles has a huge impact on learners and the quality of their learning experiences. Here are some things to consider:


Just the difference in the time of student-teacher interaction is a game-changer.


If you’ve been on Twitter recently, you wouldn’t have to scroll far to find educators emphasizing the importance of building relationships with learners. I guess when you’ve been in the classroom for so long, you don’t immediately realize how no other person on campus has the same opportunities to build relationships with kids than you. Sometimes, kids spend more time with their classroom teacher than with their family. That’s powerful.

Even after all the paperwork, conferences, meetings, and assessments, no one has more opportunities to change kids’ lives than the classroom teacher.

Building relationships with anyone can be challenging. Relationships look differently in different roles and spaces. Therefore, as a STEM Specialist now, I was careful not to sugarcoat my current, relationship-inspired, personalized learning opportunities at the 5:45 mark in Dan KreinessLeader of Learning Podcast.

Learning Experiences

In the classroom, learning experiences can be flexed by time and space. You could begin an ecosystems project, for example, and then set it aside to work on for five days in a row. By contrast, if you’re an art or STEM specials teacher, you can’t start a long-term project, and then leave materials out until the next day. Specials teachers usually don’t have space to store separate projects for several classes over time. Specials teachers may have six classes a day, and won’t see the same class again until at least a week later.

The variation in time and space directly impacts the kinds and options of learning experiences available. However, this specials teacher realization births visions to integrate subjects, resources, and grade level lessons. Vertical alignment becomes more apparent–maybe because it’s needed for efficient resource management and survival.

Still, one of my favorite ways to flex any learning experience at any time is not necessarily to have flexible seating or flexible spaces, but rather, to use all spaces flexibly. For example, the teacher’s desk doubles as a flat surface working space; playgrounds are outdoor classrooms; and hallways become studios.

Managing Behaviors

The classroom teacher gets to know each child on a more personal level, and, therefore, can differentiate instruction more meaningfully than a specials teacher.

As a result, classroom teachers may invest more time in building consistent character traits. For example, the classroom teacher will be sure to have students clean up after each lesson to model respect for their shared, community space. But STEM learning can be messy with a ton of hands-on materials across many spaces. If ten minutes were invested in the setup and cleanup each, only 25 minutes of learning and making remain.

Perhaps, of all the differences between serving as a classroom teacher and a specials teacher, none was more powerful than this one:

Because classroom teachers have more interaction with specific groups of students, they can eventually craft one management style, all nuances included. Specials teachers are just the opposite. Because the specials teacher has less interactions with specific groups of students, their management methods are always changing, all nuances included.

In fact, I’d argue that it’s impossible for specials teachers to manage each group of students the exact same way, across all grade levels, and even within each grade level. While it’s important to set high expectations and capitalize on routine and consistency in their spaces, specials teachers can’t really have just one method for classroom management, especially when serving six different grade levels or thirty different classes in multiple rotations. Flexibility is a must.

That’s one more human aspect that makes teaching an art–and not an exact science.

What are your thoughts? Comment here!

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