No, I’m not talking about the art, music, and PE teachers, who are, in my experience, typically referred to as teaching the “specials.” I’m not even talking about the special education teams.

I’m referring to the other “specialists,” your behavior specialists, reading specialists, intervention specialists, and even your “deans.” Staff members not attached to classrooms and the frequent instruction of students can disrupt and undermine the work of classroom teachers.

Let me reiterate: they can, not that they inevitably will.

Regular classroom teachers are caught in a bind. They do the most important work in any school. For all intents and purposes, they should be in charge and the highest paid. Without teachers, a principal is nothing, and a principal is only as good as the autonomy they offer their teachers. Caught working with students, and pretty much anchored to a classroom for the entire school day, teachers have less time, or no time at all, to participate in school-level decisions. Many decisions are made without input from teachers because of how quickly they need to be made, and how unavailable teachers are to make them.

Enter your “specialists.” Unlike classroom teachers, their job duties are more vague, ill-defined. Their time is not micro-managed. In that role, I’ve seen them become experts at looking busy, but accomplishing very little. What is crucial to their work, however, is the proximity in which they are able to work with the principal, thereby participating in decision-making that should be better left to classroom teachers. Contrary to classroom teachers, their jobs don’t require as much accountability, yet the decisions they make with the principal’s ear can impact the accountability to which classroom teachers are held.

Inasmuch as teaching is different than, say, office work, a school is still a workplace. And just like any other office, there are certain individuals who jockey for positions and favors, trying at all times to make their jobs seem more important, relevant, more interesting, and busier than they actually are, while at the same time increasing the demands on classroom teachers.

Beware the specialists.

Can you tell the difference: this is my first post from an iPad. It’s taking me a bit longer to type, but this may challenge me to be a bit less wordy. This may work out. Other than that, you might be able to tell that I’ve been following the Washington Post education columnist Jay […]