This past year our elementary school did something different. We departmentalized across grades. Why, you ask? Because we only have one section of each grade, yet we felt our upper elementary students needed to rotate teachers to prepare them for junior high. That, and the three teachers each had a specialty.
Our fourth grade teacher is excellent at teaching math and extremely qualified. I love reading and have my Reading Specialist degree. And finally, the 5th grade teacher was perfectly fine setting up the science experiments and doing some extra social studies. (I think we were all pretty excited to give up the subjects we weren’t as passionate about, so it worked out well!)
We started planning for this change months before we actually implemented it. There’s so much to figure out…classroom schedules, who teaches what, common rules, how to track behavior, how to contact parents, how to switch rooms with the least amount of teaching time lost, similar classroom policies/procedures to make it easier on kids, etc.
- We all got to teach a subject we love!
- We had a common prep time each day so we were able to discuss things as needed. We didn’t have an “official” time to meet, but knowing that we shared a 30 minute prep each day made our lives a bit easier.
- Being able to bounce ideas off two other teachers when you have a student you can’t reach was priceless. We all have those “tough cookies”, and knowing you had two other people who work with that student every day made it easier to get ideas.
- It felt like I was working less. I know from an hourly standpoint I truly wasn’t, but because I was teaching only subjects that I’m really passionate about my job seemed easier this past year.
- Our 6th graders are going to go to middle school better prepared for switching teachers each day.
- When you have a “tough” class, they rotate between rooms. This helps prevent teacher burnout and gives everyone a break during the day by taking on another class.
- On the same note, when you have a really large class – they rotate! You don’t have to grade papers for that large class in all subjects, just the ones you teach!
- We had to attend a LOT of special ed and Title I meetings. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it didn’t dawn on me before we made this change that I would be going to three times the meetings. It was an adjustment.
- Parents sometimes contacted one of us with a complaint about another. Thankfully we had been upfront with one another at the beginning of the year and said that if we had a parent say anything we were to send them directly to the teacher they had an issue with. It worked out really well for us and we had all issues handled promptly!
- Some of the kiddos struggled with switching teachers at the beginning of the year. I had a few 4th graders who would just gawk around my room in awe and not really hear a word I said. Thankfully this ended within about a month, but it did take some getting used to for them and me.
- You have to get along with all of the people on the team. We had a GREAT team and no problems. 🙂 However, I could see this being an issue if people don’t communicate well with one another.
- You don’t get to know the kids as well. But even as I type this, it’s not entirely true. Yes, I did not get as much time with this year’s 6th grade class as I did last year’s. However, in future years every teacher will have an equivalent of a full year with the students – except that year will be spread over three. It will all work out in the end. It just happens that the first year or two I may not know the students as well. (When I was doing research on being departmentalized last year I saw a bunch of research saying that you lose the relationships. I can honestly say that I didn’t feel that way! Even though I saw over 50 students each day, I had a good connection with the majority of them. And I think each subsequent year with them would just make it better!)
- Scheduling was a bit of a nightmare. We started the year with 60 minute blocks, but found that wasn’t enough time. We had to make the entire elementary change their specials schedules so we could change to 90 minute blocks. EEK! It ended up working out just fine, but the point is that you will need to be open and honest to get this to work. And be prepared for some bumps along the way. It took us about two months to have all the kinks worked out, but it was well worth it!
- Math, 4th Grade Homeroom (spelling, grammar, social studies)
- Science, 6th Grade Social Studies, 5th Grade Homeroom (spelling, grammar)
- Reading, Writing, 6th Grade Homeroom (spelling, grammar)
- 4th Grade Homeroom will teach ALL math & spelling
- 5th Grade Homeroom will teach ALL science & social studies
- 6th Grade Homeroom will teach ALL reading, writing, grammar
Want to read more thoughts on HoJo’s Teaching Adventures about departmentalizing? This blog post is about how I organized classroom supplies and this one explains one way to organize paperwork and student workbooks.