Are you one of the lucky ones? You know, the ones who get to teach math AND language arts…or math AND language arts AND science? Or are you one of the poor, unfortunate souls who only gets to teach one subject area? :-)
I’ve had the opportunity to do both. As an elementary teacher for 12 years, I taught all subjects – math, LA (reading, grammar, spelling), science, social studies. When I moved to middle school, the subject load was reduced a bit. The first year, I taught science and LA (reading, grammar, spelling - which was 2 periods). The second year, our 6th grade went to teams of 2, and math was added to everyone’s subject load. I didn’t mind the addition of math, because I really like teaching math. BUT, planning for all those subjects made me feel like I was an elementary teacher again…..except the content was more difficult, the class periods were shorter, and the grading took longer. It was pretty overwhelming. Planning labs, literature circles, discovery math lessons…..it was a lot. This lasted for only a year, and then we went back to teams of 3 (most of us, anyway), and I went back to science and LA for 2 or 3 more years. Then the math teacher on our team retired, and I got to switch from science to math (plus LA). After several more years, our teams grew to 4 and then 5 teachers, and I was responsible for teaching just math.
Is teaching multiple subjects a positive or negative?
I guess it depends on how you look at it. Is it more work? For sure! But I have to say that when I taught both math and science, I was better able to incorporate concepts from each subject into the other…it gave me a better understanding of what was being taught in the other subject. And at some times, I was able to plan for both subjects together. When topics overlap, the planning is a little easier. But even when they don’t, knowing what happened in one class helped me teach the other: when we solved equations in science, it reinforced our math learning. When we got to metric conversions in math, students remembered it from science (and I was able to say, "Remember when we did this in science class?")
Now, language arts didn’t tie in as well with math and science; (I loved when I taught LA and SS in elementary school – we read so much historical fiction!) However, adding writing components to math and science lessons and assignments did allow the opportunity to reinforce writing in the content areas.
Which is better? Teaching one or teaching several?
I definitely liked teaching just math – being able to devote all my planning time to one subject allowed me to create more activities for that subject, dive deeper into my planning, and become more of an expert – my planning time no longer had to be split 3 or 4 ways. I was also better able to plan for differentiation when needed (math students weren't always grouped by ability, so I often had a wide range of needs in my classes).
However, I’m grateful that I did have to teach multiple subjects. When I was teaching equations, I knew they’d be seeing them in science, and I could talk about that. When we did metric conversions, I knew they had already done them in science, so I could reference that. When it came time for 9th period every day (when students could get started with homework), I could answer the students’ science and language arts questions, instead of sending them to the respective teacher, because I had that background.
How can you make life a little easier when you DO get to teach multiple subjects?
I've got five planning/grading tips for you:
1) Analyze your content at the beginning of the year and identify topics that overlap. Create one lesson/unit plan that can be used for both - even if they occur at different times of the year.
2) If you are teaching language arts, identify books you can read in class that address concepts in another subject area. This could be tough for math and science, but think about biographies of mathematicians and scientists. Picture books can also be a great resource!
3) Find/create some assignments that can be used in more than one class at the same time and then grade them for both content areas.
4) Try to plan so that your tests and projects aren't on the same day, so you don't end up with an enormous amount of grading all at the same time!
5) Think about grading only part of an assignment, or have students self-correct - this can be very beneficial to students!
A few organizational tips:
1) Use a section of your board to post a due dates for each class.
2) When making your seating charts - if you have homeroom students in your classes or students in more than one of your classes, keep their seats the same and seat the other students in the empty seats....creating the seating chart goes a little faster.
3) Set up crates or files that can hold materials by class. When I taught several subjects, I kept trays on my counters, labeled by subject for students to hand in and pick up assignments.
4) Use color coding to keep student work separated by class or course.
5) Color code your plan book - partly because it's a great visual and partly because it's fun:-)
Teaching multiple subjects can be challenging, but it definitely has its benefits! What is your favorite part?
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