5 Things "Specials" Teachers Want You to Know

A music teacher shares the frustrations of being a "specials" teacher — and why what they do is so important.

During my teaching career, I (unfortunately) found that not everyone views music, art, PE, or even library classes as valuable parts of a quality education.

5 Things "Special" Teachers Want You to Know

When I first wrote about this topic over on my blog, The Domestic Musician, I got numerous comments from other "specials" teachers who had experienced the same thing. One fellow music teacher was even told by her mother, “You can’t expect to be treated the same. Specialists don’t impact test scores.” Although hurtful to hear, she knew it was the attitude of many principals.

While still in the classroom, I was lumped into a category with the other “specials teachers,” and at times felt very underappreciated. For that reason, I wanted to share five reasons why music (or art, PE, library, etc.) teachers are important for a well-rounded education, and why generalizing our work bothers us.

1. We have real college degrees

You would not believe the number of times that a parent or even another teacher was shocked when I explained that you had to have a degree in Music Education to teach music. There is so much work that goes into getting a music education degree. Before entering college, we take years of lessons in voice or an instrument. Then in college, music majors spend countless hours in the practice rooms, take a lot of the same education classes that someone with a degree in elementary education takes, sit in public school classrooms doing several hours of practicums, and then student teach in an elementary classroom AND a secondary classroom.

2. Being called a “specials” teacher gets mixed reactions

I understand that all art, music, computer, and library teachers — as well as school counselors — are labeled “specialists.” Just like the kinder, first, and second grade teachers are called “lower grades” and the third, fourth, and fifth grade teachers are called “upper grades,” our group of teachers need to be called something, too. While the label can feel dismissive at times, here's how I look at it: When I was called a “specials” teacher instead of the music teacher, I just smiled instead of getting defensive. You want to know why? We are pretty special.

On the flip side, some teachers do have a negative experience with this title. Another commenter shared her experience as an art teacher working for a principal who didn’t encourage collaboration amongst the teachers in her school: “‘Special’ classes can be a powerful support when used properly within a community, but they can be demised [sic] if not supported. It’s a sad day when any community stops recognizing people’s strengths.”

"I love how when a student feels unsuccessful in reading or math, they can come to music class and feel like they accomplished something huge."

3. Music teachers can reach kids like no other teacher can.

Another commenter, second grade teacher S. Coffey, said it best when she expressed how she feels about her school’s music teacher: “I agree music teachers are special. Our music teacher inspires me all the time. She helps me to be a better second grade teacher. She works hard and gives just as much and more than myself and other teachers...Music, art, PE, and librarians all work hard to be effective teachers in engaging classrooms helping to mold the whole child.”

Personally, I love how when a student feels unsuccessful in reading or math, they can come to music class and feel like they accomplished something huge. It is also pretty extraordinary that since an elementary music teacher works with every child in their school, they often get to see students grow up right before their eyes.

Music teacher Leah wrote, “We are all special. Just because we don’t understand someone else’s job in a school, [that] doesn’t mean that their job is less important. Music teachers, and all specialists, teach something ‘special’ that a general ed. teacher can’t. We reach something that they can’t. And they reach something we can’t.

4. I miss my planning period, too!

Planning periods are state mandated for EVERY teacher. The number of times my planning period was cut into… well, let’s just say that it happened a lot. I think planning time is so important, and while several teachers were flexible if their planning time was cut into one day, there were others who wouldn't let me hear the end of it (when most of the time, it wasn't my fault).

Frances, a music teacher, felt strongly about her experience with hers and fellow teachers' planning periods. “‘You are nothing but a glorified babysitter.’ No one actually said that to me, but I sensed it more and more during my career. My last year of teaching we had a horrific principal and the teachers took out their frustrations on me – making me double, even triple classes when their planning period was missed.”

"I had parents, paraprofessionals, my principal, and other teachers sit in on me teaching a lesson and at the end of class say, 'Wow. I had no idea the kids learned so much in here.'"

5. A lot happens in those 40 minutes of music class

From the second the children walk in the door until the second they leave, we are doing non-stop learning. I had parents, paraprofessionals, my principal, and other teachers sit in on me teaching a lesson and at the end of class say, “Wow. I had no idea the kids learned so much in here." That's what bothers me. They don't know.

“I’ve had teachers refer to my class as a ‘break’ for kids from learning, ‘just’ a music class, or ‘only’ music. I’ve had administration say the reason why the schedule a grade level for a certain time is because students are ‘done learning’ by X time in their regular class so they might as well schedule the specials block for that time,” explains Malinda, also a music teacher.

There is TONS of cross-curricular learning happening in a music class, but the most awesome thing they are learning is… MUSIC. One parent who is concerned about dwindling support for arts education commented, “Some children who don’t connect with the everyday lessons like math, English, history, etc. bloom in music classes. They are able to articulate what they are feeling inside, and use their voices or instruments to do so.”

We are constantly feeling like we need to justify why we teach music. We feel like we need to explain how we are reaching all of the subjects, how music helps the brain and how it improves test scores, but can't we simply just say we teach music because kids need to learn music? It is important all on it's own and doesn't need to be justified.

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Author Bio:

Jessica taught music in the classroom for five years and is currently the online music teacher at The Domestic Musician. She LOVES teaching and inspiring others and is in love with all things music. When she is not teaching or blogging, she is busy raising her 3 little boys, hanging out with her very tall husband, or binging on a good Netflix show.

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