Why we need to eliminate ‘specials’ in schools

With such an emphasis on Common Core State Standards, schools are pushing for higher test scores, more rigor, and more focused classrooms. School administrators and teachers alike are feeling more pressure than ever from the top to achieve more and “close the gap.” With this in mind, schools need to highly consider eliminating specials in our students’ education.

This is coming from a music teacher: for the sake of our students’ future, we must trim the fat.

It’s very important for me to emphasize that although I am anti-“specials,” I am in full support of classes like music, media, art, dance, gym, etc. Offering classes like these do not only afford creative outlets for kids but also help with brain development, learning life skills,  applying knowledge from other class and bridging cross-curricular concepts.

Schools unintentionally miss out on opportunities for growth by  treating and calling classes like media, woodshop, music and art as “special” classes.

-Read about a school who addressed the ‘specials’ issue and ran in the opposite direction taking their math proficiency scores from six percent to 34 percent HERE.-

When you refer to something as “special” you imply that it is “extra” or not part of the essential.  Let me give you a couple examples of “special” things: desserts and privileges. There is a reason that English and U.S. History are not referred to as “special.” Classes such as these have words like “core,” and “academic” associated with them. A simple use of vocabulary sets the art teacher and their class apart, but not in a good way. One teacher’s class is dessert, one is a hearty dinner. People can “do without” dessert. When they go on a diet, they typically don’t pass on the steak for the sundae.

You may be saying wait a minute, they aren’t core classes so what should we call them? You should call them whatever is going to empower the teacher of that subject, whatever is going to show importance to the student, equality among  teachers, to parents and the community.

There is a big risk when staff and students alike do not regard classes like music, gym, art and media of equal importance. It shows that only part of their day and education overall is important. We need our students engaged. Administrators need to acknowledge “specialists,” as equals among teachers for the sake of school culture. Every class must be important to the school, students and parents. This starts with the vocabulary.

It is important to note that for the most part, I do believe schools fall into this pit unintentionally, but it can be quite damaging to students view of their elective class. I have seen students begin to view classes like music, art, media and gym as unimportant as early as kindergarten. This is a result of students being pulled or kept from these classes due to behavior problems in other classrooms or because they need extra help in another subject.

Keeping kids from classes like art and music should not be used as consequences for bad behavior. Doing so shows students and educators that these classes are, in fact, ‘special.’ That it is a privilege to go to ‘special,’ much like going to the movies. In addition if your behavior does not improve in your “core” class your consequence is missing “special.”

Now, lets not let “specials” teachers off the hook either. If you teach in one of these areas, I would be happy for this blog to challenge you as well. Is your class rigorous? If you are not put on the same level as other teachers around the school, have you voiced an opinion to have that changed? I believe this issue in schools has also come from a long line of music, gym, art, and media teachers who have been fine with being the outsiders of the educational community they are surrounded by.

This is 2015. With common-core breathing down our neck as educators, now is the time for both administrators and teachers alike to eliminate ‘specials’ and embrace that all classes are important in building our students’ future. Let me leave you with a couple challenges for anyone reading this:

  1. Administrators, do you have ‘specials’ in your school? Do some digging to see if this helps or hurts your school culture.
  2. English, Math, Science, Social Studies teachers, have you unintentionally lowered the value of another class by using attendance as a reward or consequence?
  3. Art, Music, Gym, and Media teachers (and others like them). Is your class rigorous? Are you using your class to bridge concepts, build life skills and intentionally give students a chance to apply, in your class, what they have learned in other classes?

No dessert for me please.


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