The Future of the Elementary Classroom

There is a new trend in elementary education: Departmentalizing or "Platoon" Instruction. What this means is that instead of being a generalist, teaching all subjects, the elementary teacher is now being asked to specialize in one or two areas. What does this mean for the future of the elementary classroom? 

The Good

I have been a departmentalized elementary teacher for the last two years teaching math and science to two different grade levels each year. This has allowed me to develop an expertise in these areas. I am now more familiar with the CCSS standards for math than before when I was a generalist. 

I now have the ability to work with my students for two years in a row thus allowing me more time to bring them up to grade level. It allows for better communication with parents as I have been able to forge a relationship with them as well as my students. 

I spend a good portion of my day with the teachers who teach the other subjects in my grade level. There are times when we co-teach to allow integration of cross-curricular instruction. We also tackle parent-teacher conferences together. It is no longer a he said-she said conversation. It is now a professional discussion carefully documented and supported. 

The Bad

I decided to become an elementary teacher as I knew that teaching one subject would quickly become boring to me. I knew my personality and I craved the change that was the elementary classroom environment. This landscape is now changing. I took a pay cut in order to have the ability to teach everything. Now I teach in a specialized are but I am not paid as an expert. 

A lot of time is lost in transitions throughout the day. If the class is running behind there is no stretching it out for five more minutes. When the time is up, its up. There have been many a days when I was so involved that my timer went off and we knew that was our five minute warning. Time to wrap and leave. UGH! Then the next day we have to come back and review to get back to where we were and we only needed five more minutes. 

I no longer have "my students." This means that those childhood memories of classroom parties and holiday celebrations are a thing of the past. We no longer do themes, birthdays are a quick thing and done. No more cupcakes. No count downs. No preparations. Our time is focused on academics. Parties and fun have to be planned with the team. 

More meetings. Morning meetings, mid-day meetings, and after-school meetings. Emails throughout the day with behavior updates or other concerns. If your child's mother was in a car accident for drunk driving and was misbehaving in your class, you may not know what is going on until she finally cracks after getting in trouble with three different teachers. True story. The trust that is built and the secrets shared between teach and student diminishes. 

Not only that but anything sent home, calls made, etc... have to be planned with the team. You don't want everyone calling that poor child's mother about her behavior. What a disaster that would have been. All of this planning to communicate leaves less time to plan lessons. 

The Ugly

The reason my school went to departmentalization.... money.  Common Core State Standards resulted in teachers needing more training to meet the expectations of the new tests. In order to get those test scores up, teachers needed more time to become experts. This costs money and the schools don't have it. So... this is one of the solutions. 

My first year departmentalized, I had an amazing team. I loved them. We worked well together. Where one was, the others were as well. We were always on the same page. We communicated efficiently. Discipline, routines, and procedures were coordinated. We trusted each other completely. Our leader was a veteran teacher with 25 years of experience and a former principal. She loved teaching so much she came back for the challenge and boy did she meet it!

The next year, not so much. We had a veteran teacher with 20 years experience set in her ways. This is not how we do things. This is my classroom. Don't talk to me about my student. It was awful. It was ugly. Eventually most of the team stopped communicating with parents as we got tired of being embarrassed every time we called right after her. There was no consistency between rooms and discipline issues escalated. 

We all know how hard it is to organize an elementary child. Now imagine trying to get that child to remember what materials to bring to what class? 

My Opinion

I think departmentalization holds a lot of benefits IF the team is carefully constructed and matched. I think with a good team, the benefits for student and teacher outweigh in of the consequences. However, if the team is not well matched, I believe the opposite is true. 

I also think that more research needs to be done. I am not convinced that this is the solution to the problems with American Education system. 

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