Death of the Generalist

IMG_0683When I first became interested in teaching I was often asked what grade level I would teach.  Very quickly as I went through my coursework I realized that I was drawn to the elementary level.  At that time most of my colleagues considered me to be a generalist as opposed to a specialist (secondary level).

Turn the hands of the clock forward… now I am overwhelmed by the complexity of the new standards, the plethora of apps, the mountain of books, the websites, blogs, Twitterfeeds, ad nauseum.

I am thinking that in light of all this and especially due to the complexities of the Common Core, that this may be the death of the generalist.  In order to cope with the pressures/demands of our current system as it transitions into the 21st Century (oh, yes 2014 draws near) with new standards,  perhaps the time has come for the old model of the elementary teacher to go away.  Or does the Common Core demand more integration?

And yet my heart feels that students need to have that elementary teacher.  That teacher may no longer be appropriate in the academic sense but in the sense that for that one year in their life, for those six hours per day (+) a student had someone who knew them, cared for them, supported them, listened to them and loved them. Over the years I’ve had students tell me they see me more than their dad, what an awesome responsibility and honor.  I do not mean to say that my secondary colleagues are any less invested in the lives of their students.  However, as it stands in most schools, elementary classrooms are self-contained and therefore that structure lends itself to the potential for the kind of student-teacher relationship I have alluded to.

Can we continue with the status quo in our elementary schools?  If the current demands force elementary schools to become more like their secondary brethren, is this a good thing?  Is that what our country wants from its schools?  I’m sure that there are already elementary schools that have specialists rather than generalists.  For a few years I team taught and was teaching math, science and social studies while my partner taught reading and writing.  Are they better? How do we know? And by what measures? If this is a better model, why aren’t more schools switching?  If it is not a good model, how can we change, strengthen, adapt the current model in order to better face the future?  Is this a false dichotomy, are there other models for our elementary system?