I've been reflecting lately on the differences between elementary school teachers and middle/ high school teachers. I've been an elementary school teacher for the past 35 years. I love my job, my greatest joy still comes from being with children and watching them grow and learn. I'm positive this is the case for any educator who enjoys their work. I've had very little experience in a departmentalized setting for elementary schools, but what experience I've had was generally positive.
Last week, I attended a district inservice day. I appreciated the day for the opportunity to reflect on my practice and life as a teacher. In the morning we were in mixed grade level groups from PreK-12. We had teachers of art, math, business, special education and everything in between. We read and discussed articles focused on feedback. I thoroughly enjoyed the mixed grade level discussions. I thrive on the opportunity to listen and learn from others. As I listened, the complexity of all of our jobs was evident (isn't it always?). The differences were vast, the similarities real.
I developed a thinking analogy I shared, that I'm sure others have considered as well. As an elementary educator, we're like "general practitioners", the "family physicians". In fact, my National Board Certification is as a "Middle Childhood Generalist". On any given day, elementary educators teach multiple subjects, from the "Three Rs" to science, social studies, technology, engineering, humanities,social skills, etc. We're constantly jumping from one area to another, integrating as much as we can, but truly teaching a wide variety within any given day.
I see middle/high school teachers as the "specialists". Teachers deeply grounded in their fields of math, literacy, science, etc. Sometimes their worlds converge with other subject areas, but these teachers are the true experts in their fields with strong, deep knowledge in a particular discipline. These teachers always amaze me with their depth of content knowledge and the pedagogy they use to teach a particular subject area.
I see the knowledge base for elementary education as more breadth, rather than depth. It's harder for us to develop the depth of content knowledge in any particular area because we have so much to teach. We want to know everything about EVERYTHING, but it's an impossible task.* All teachers share the need for a strong background and depth of knowledge in regard to pedagogy, We can learn a lot from each other in this category, what works in a classroom, what doesn't, what is worth trying, how can we grow together?
Most importantly, teachers need to respect each other's knowledge and job complexity. It's not easy teaching today, it wasn't easy teaching 35 years ago, or all the years in between. Yet, I know my greatest opportunities for growth lie with my students and my colleagues. So, I'll remember to trust and learn from the middle/high school "specialists". I'll always have great respect for the work they do, and I hope they in turn, will do the same for me, the "general practitioner".
*The opinions expressed here are purely my own.