George Lucas Educational Foundation

Knowledge of subject matter and switching teaching assignments

Knowledge of subject matter and switching teaching assignments

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My school district had several administors that believed in moving elementary school teachers from grade to grade every two or three years. Just when many teachers were beginning to feel comfortable with their knowledge of the subject matter for that grade level, they were forced to switch to a different grade level. I realize this can be a way to avoid burnout, stay energized, and facilitate teacher learning and growth, but most teachers were very against this practice. They felt that they were being taken out of a classroom where there knowledge of subject matter was very good and put into a situation where they had to learn a new curriculum. Many of their thoughts were that it wasn't fair to do this to the students. Is this a good practice as it expands teacher knowledge of all grade levels and curriculums, or a bad practice in that it may affect students because they may have a teacher who doesn't have the experience or knowledge of subject matter in the same way an experienced teacher in that grade level has?

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Cindy Mannie's picture
Cindy Mannie
Middle School Multiple Handicap teacher from Memphis, TN

We had a similar program that the new superintendent wanted to implement, in that he wanted the teachers to not only teach another grade but he also wanted the teacher to remain with the same students for the first three years of school. The big kicker was that no child could be retained during this time period, so for approximately four years of school if you count kindergarten, a student will be given not only low expectations, but really no expectation.

Teri Weidlein's picture

Wow, that sounds like a horrible program, Cindy. Is it a work in progress right now, or is it over? If the program is finished what was the outcome for the students who struggled and should have been retained? I wonder what the thought process was for implementing the program and what positives the superintendent thought would come from it other than the teacher knowing the children well.

Teri Weidlein's picture

Pearl, you make a great point when you say that teachers should prepare well enough to make sure the students master what is being taught. That does put the responsibility back onto the teacher so that they have no one to blame but themselves if they don't know the subject matter very well.

Pearl M.'s picture

It's really important teachers have mastery of subjects they teach so how long a teacher has taught a subject should not determine how effective they are. Last week I read an article by P. H. Phelps entitled "The three Rs of professionalism" in which she states, "Teachers whose sense of efficacy is strong do not blame external circumstances when students do not learn, but instead take a proactive approach by seeking ways to help students achieve." That tells me that whether a teacher has taught a lesson for many years or is teaching it for the first time, they have to prepare well enough and make sure they understand it well enough in order to ensure students master it. We want and encourage our students to be life-long learners so we have to set the example for them be it by choice or school policy.

Another article, written by Pamela Kramer, "The ABC's of Professionalism" states " an important focus in the current standards movement" and then refers to the NCATE Standards
which states teacher candidates must know the subject matter they teach and should be able to teach it effectively to facilitate student learning.

Yes, change is difficult for many of us and yes, we feel more comfortable with the familiar but if we are willing to put forth effort to learn the subjects we are to teach, we and our students will benefit.

Kramer, P. A. (2003, Fall). The ABCs of professionalism. Kappa Delta Pi Record.

Article: Phelps, P. H. (2006). The three Rs of professionalism. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 42(2), 69-71.

Erin S's picture

I think there are pros and cons to the situation. Of course, teachers would not be too familiar with the new curriculum.If teachers are motivate about the switch then learning the new curriculum could be exciting. If teachers switch to a nearby grade it could be beneficial. I taught second grade last year, and this year I teach first. I know where my students need to be before starting second grade. I know what they will be learning, and the prior knowledge they will need to be successful. Having an optomistic outlook is key.

Danielle Jenkins's picture

Although I have never switched grade levels, there are many staff members in my building that have experienced this change. Many of these changes were a result of our funding and student enrollment. The great thing about my principal is that she stated what needed to happen and then let the teachers decide who was going to fill the positions. In the end, teachers who were ready for a change in the classroom volunteered for these openings. They were willing to take on new challenges and were eager to learn a new curriculum.

I think it is wrong on the part of administration to have teachers changes positions just for the sake of it, but I do agree that if it must happen teachers must accept this decision with professionalism. Part of this means learning and feeling confident with the subject matter because your efficacy will ultimately impact that of your students.

Cindy Mannie's picture
Cindy Mannie
Middle School Multiple Handicap teacher from Memphis, TN

The program was never started teachers complained and the administration had not thought the process through fully, it was an idea that sounded good and they thought it would help with the drop out rate. We have mostly minority students and they believed that eliminating failure in the first three years would allow them to stay in school easier. Nobody had an answer with what would be done once they reached the fourth grade and still not able to be promoted. This superintendant has very little respect for the teachers, who are on the front lines everyday, but once the public got involved the idea was totally tabled.

Donnetta Schaaf's picture

This is the first time I have ever checked out this blog. You all have some great thoughts on the issue. Our district doesn't require any forced moves like that and leaves it up to us to request a move unless something big comes up due to budget cuts or something.

I have taught 6th grade math for many years, and I think I have developed into a better math teacher as each year progresses. I have found things that work and things that don't work, and I think it helps to have several years of experience in a particular subject when teaching it.

I have been feeling kind of burned out for the past year or so, though. I spoke with my principal recently about changing positions for next year, so when I was looking over the blog titles, the subject really piqued my interest. It is very scary for me to step out of my comfort zone. I think that there will definitely be pros and cons, but just thinking about it is exciting! Though I think there are some great advantages that will come with switching, I don't agree with being forced to switch. Teachers are under enough stress in today's educational environment without being forced into an unwelcome situation.

Jennifer Brayard's picture
Jennifer Brayard
4th grade teacher from Riverside, CA

Wow, that would be a stressful situation. I don't think this in beneficial for the teachers or the students. I understand the administrators trying to avoid burnout, but at what point do you become burned out of learning new curriculum? I recently changed grades because I was becoming bored with teaching the same grade for 7 years. This is not the situation for all teachers. I know teachers that have been teaching the same grade for many years and can not imagine switching grades. I think it is up to the individual teacher. Some teachers find the grade that they love and never want to change. As long as they are effective teachers, than changing thier grade is not the solution.
I am sure students are not benefiting from this because they are probably getting teachers that are frustrated. The students would benefit from effective teachers, no matter how many years that particular teacher has been teaching the grade they are in.

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