Sunday, July 17, 2005


As I prepare for the upcoming school year, I have been wondering about the idea of specializing in specific grade level. As an English teacher, each year has a set of expectations, both in reading skills and writing skills , that we must accomplish. Certainly the same can be said for the other disciplines, only in a slightly different way.
Doctors are trained to have a broad and general understanding of the medical world, but then focus on a specific discipline. Some choose to be pediatricians, while others go into orthopedics. That becomes their speciality, what they focus on and are best at. They tend not to stray from that discipline. In teaching, your average teacher is asked to be a specialist in more than one category. Teachers are often in support of this dabbling mentality. But it seems to me that if we are going to be most effective, we ought to focus on a specific grade level.
Wouldn't it do our students a world of good if we were truly experts in our area. Next year I will be teaching Freshmen despite teaching Seniors last year. My entire summer, outside of teaching summer school, is focused on preparing new material for the year. I think I had some success last year, and would have enjoyed the challenge of modifying what I had done. In fact, I had already started working on that as the year wound down. But maybe I will find that Freshmen are my niche. Maybe I find I enjoy teaching them. Shouldn't I be allowed to focus all of my prep time on that. Five classes of 9th grade English.
Why not? The detractors say it will be boring and monotonous. But I think that a good teacher would not allow himself or herself to become boring and monotonous. I want to be the best teacher around. I think I can reach my maximum ability by focusing on a grade level. Who does it hurt?


At 4:27 AM , Blogger mgatton said...

I absolutely agree with you. I worked 13 years (more or less) in a school that practiced looping. For me (a science teacher) this was torture, teaching 6th, then 7th, then 8th grade, then back to 6th. I'm finally moving on in the fall to a school where I can specialize. I was totally surprised at a recent science department meeting where I brought it up as a policy that needed revisiting to find I was quite alone in my dislike of the practice.

At 4:33 AM , Blogger Nancy A. McKeand said...

On some levels I agree with you. I teach writing most of the time -- rather than reading or oral skills and writing. I know it has improved my classes. But five classes of ninth grade English (or anything else) might be too much. When I have taught the same class more than once a day, I found that my biggest problem was remembering exactly what had happened in each class. Did I say that to 4th period or to 6th? And where, exactly, did we leave off. Now maybe that says more about me as a teacher and as a person than it really does about specializing, but I found I really would rather have the different preps each day.

I think that we as teachers specialize. We specialize in a particular subject matter and general age groups rather than specifics of either. With time we come to prefer one class over another, one age or grade over another, but I think we should always have the opportunity to teach a broader range of classes. It enriches us and our classes.

I do think, though, that we need time to be comfortable with each set of classes. One year of teaching something is not good enough. But after three years, it might be better to switch grade levels.

I think that specialists who are too specialized can become so focused on their particular specialty that they lose sight of the bigger picture. With our students, it is good to really know what we are preparing them for and what they have already seen and done. That knowledge comes from teaching or having taught it.

At 9:06 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Nancy--I agree with your last paragraph, that the possibility of losing the overall focus is quite possible.
Maybe it is personality, but I am intrigued by perfecting to the best of my ability a certain grade level before I move on. You are right, though, in that I can assure you I would grow bored once I felt I had mastered the grade.

At 5:07 AM , Blogger Keith said...

Prefacing my comment by acknowledging that I'm not a school teacher, I'm just Mr. McNamar's brother...

I think there are some individuals who are good specialists, and I think there are some who are good generalists in just about any profession. Some people focus intensively on a particular area, and bring about a great deal of depth and understanding about that particular subject area. Others enjoy reading and thinking widely in a topic, and can bring about a measure of width, if you will, to a topic.

It seems to me that you would want both specialists and generalists to cover a given area. If there's a mutual respect for the strengths of each teacher, then it might be a really healthy environment for teachers and students. Students who progress in the subject area would increasingly be exposed to those teachers who specialize in that area. While students who show less aptitude for the subject might stay with a generalist teacher for that subject for all four years of High School, but be exposed to specialists in other areas.

I guess I'm just thinking out loud, again realizing that my thoughts here might have little relevance to your actual experience, but hoping that I added something to the discussion.

At 9:12 AM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Keith, good point. In my original post I mentioned doctors, but failed to recognize those doctors that we call general practitioners. Those docotors are able to give us something about everything.
I look at our staff and I see individuals who are well suited at very specific grade levels and subjects--AP/Honors, and others who are very good at reaching a broad population.

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