Learning Experts vs. Subject Experts

More elementary schools are moving towards departmentalizing their schools. This means eliminating the traditional model of one teacher teaching all core subjects to one group of students. Departmentalization means hiring subject matter experts to teach one or two core subjects across multiple grade levels, for example first through third grade math or a third and fourth grade math/science combination. If this is the wave of the future, how are teacher training programs adapting? There are s number of colleges and universities that require teaching candidates to earn a bachelor’s degree in a core learning area (to include the arts) and then pursue a Master of Arts degree with teaching certification. Teacher preparation programs have been criticized for not preparing teachers with a depth of core knowledge. As a former school leader, I hired teachers with deep content knowledge and a passion for and ability to relate to students. As an instructional leader, it became my responsibility to offer professional development and coaching for those content experts who lacked pedagogical knowledge. My teachers were able to dive deeply into subjects, think of alternate ways to teach and discuss content, analyze student learning and identify individual gaps- all because they were content specialists. In addition, the specialization allows for fewer lesson plans and better prepared teachers. Traditionally secondary students have a history of access to the benefits of content specialists; however, cognitively it makes sense to allow those first introduced to material, those with infinite curiosity- elementary students- to have access to teachers with a deep understanding of their subject and more time for hands-on lessons and planning. As more elementary schools are trending towards a non-traditional model with subject matter experts, teacher training programs will need to adapt their certification models and degree requirements to meet the demand of schools.

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