I was well aware going into the field of education that as an elementary teacher holding a French degree I could expect to teach multiple grade levels throughout my career, ranging from K to 6 in the French Immersion program – this I was prepared for. What I didn’t see coming was being hired as a middle-school French as a Second Language (FSL) teacher who not only taught French but was also expected to teach other subjects here and there, such as language arts, current events and social studies, in order to make my contract a full-time position. While I would have liked to stick to teaching French, it wasn’t a huge ask for me to learn the curriculums for those other subject areas. If they had asked me to teach math or science at the middle school level, that would have been another story entirely. While I have managed to escape being asked to teach subject areas that would have been a huge stretch, others have not been so lucky, such as in the case of upper elementary teachers being asked to teach French when they have never taken a French class in their lives – how that’s possible to pull off is beyond me as it’s not merely a matter of following curriculum, it’s a matter of being able to teach proper pronunciation, grammatical rules, etc. Hearing stories like this begs the question of how we got to this point in education and if anything can be done to fix it?
If we are talking about elementary level schools that are facing budget cuts and can’t afford to hire specialist teachers as they did back in the day when every school seemed to have an art teacher, a music teacher, a gym teacher, etc., what can be done? Perhaps a little creative reorganizing, such as assigning two grade 5 classes the same home room teacher. This home room teacher could be responsible for teaching the basics language arts, math, social studies and science to both classes and then the specialists at the school could fill in the other time blocks with music, French, PE, etc. And if all the classes at the school were doubled up and assigned a single shared home room teacher, the specialists could then run their programs, filling in the gaps throughout the school – K to 6. In organizing classes this way, the home room teacher would still teach the same amount of classes, but to twice as many students, thus lessening their planning load and stress, and the specialists could teach in their areas of expertise. This scenario would eliminate teachers being asked to teach subject areas they are simply not qualified to, such as teaching a language they have never learnt themselves.
While the above solution could work well for elementary schools and offer some relief for teachers who are feeling overwhelmed, what of the middle and high school teachers facing similar scenarios? Perhaps providing those teachers an extra prep with the expectation that they take online courses to help them learn the additional curriculums might be the way to go, although I do realize that may be easier said than done. If extra training cannot be provided, then perhaps it’s a question of rethinking the path that secondary teachers take in university and instead of having them focus on a single subject area, maybe they should be required to specialize in two or three areas, giving them the flexibility to teach a wider range of subjects as needed at the middle school/high school levels.
I don’t believe there’s a clear-cut answer to how we arrived at this point, where educators are asked to teach subject areas they aren’t qualified to teach, but what I do know is that for the sake of both teachers and students solutions must be sought out as the current situation isn’t in anyone’s best interest. Have thoughts or opinions on this topic you would like to share? We’d love to hear them!
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