On Being a Specialist

by Laurie Bellet

I have the incredible luxury of being a full time Art Specialist in a Day School.

Over the past 10 years, however, I have worked in a variety of settings—congregational schools, day schools, camps, community centers, public schools—simply to gain as much experience as possible. Through all these many classrooms, the toughest position I have ever held, and the one I disliked the most, was that of ‘itinerant’ specialist. An itinerant specialist is the person, deemed to have a special skill, who visits your classroom every so often, to teach one specific area of curriculum. Generally there are specialists for music, art, and dance. But, there may also be specialists for resource support, Hebrew, Israel studies, drama and computers. In some programs there are so many specialists that the classroom teacher has very little in the way of core curriculum to teach and even a smaller allotment of time in which to teach it. Specialists frequently have no space to call ‘home,’ travel around the building on a tight schedule and carry everything they anticipate needing along with them. Frankly, it is usually no fun; but there are definite measures the classroom teacher can take to ease the way while also teachings students the value of welcoming guests!

1. If you (the classroom teacher) are supposed to sign up for specialist time, do so. It is awkward to have to go around from room to room seeking out teachers who should have previously scheduled your services. Even worse, is arriving to an empty schedule and having the Director instructing you to visit a classroom to do ‘something’ with the students.

2. Let the specialist know (at least 2 weeks in advance) what the children have been studying and the extent of their knowledge. That awareness makes it possible for a specialist to design a meaningful learning activity.

3. Be ready for your specialist. Have the table tops cleared for the Art Specialist and the desks pushed aside for the Dance Specialist.

4. Keep standard school supplies handy and in good shape. Specialists do not expect to have to carry typical tools such as sharpened pencils or plain paper.

5. Give the children name tags or put desk plates with the children’s names on the table tops. It is usually impossible for a specialist to learn every name but all teachers are more effective when able to call individual students by name.

6. Appoint a student to help the specialist pass out supplies, pack up, and tote stuff to the next destination.

7. Be sure the floor is clear. Specialists often need to move rapidly from child to child and can all too easily stumble over backpacks and glue sticks scattered on the floor.

8. Save the special classroom events for another day when you do not have a specialty visit. I recall once arriving in a room to find that it was their annual “no desk day.” Delivering an art lesson to children hunkered down in sleeping bags was an unfortunate use of my time, to say the least!

Overall, remember that a few simple steps on your part can enhance everyone’s specialty lesson. It is never fun to feel like a stranger. Extending a true welcome makes each of us feel right at home!