Not all teachers are equal, nor treated the same.
This statement may seem extreme, but to thousands of elective teachers, it is their reality. Unfortunately, that has been my experience as a French teacher. My path towards teaching has been an uphill battle from the start. I as well as many other elective teachers have had to fight to keep elective departments alive.
First, let me share a few of the many reasons why elective courses (which I also refer to as the arts) matter. Albert Einstein, considered by many as the smartest man that ever lived, saw the value of creative exploration in education. His wise words below underline how essential the arts truly are.
Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere. -Albert Einstein (*quote taken from the BBC website, see below)
Logic is a skill that is taught in core classes, and imagination is given power through the arts. How would a society develop without innovative thinkers that can imagine new technologies that haven’t been invented yet? Not only do elective classes help students grow in their imagination, but they also teach skills that are essential to have in daily life. In music classes, students learn teamwork and collaboration as they have to work together to create music. In world language courses, students learn about cultures around the world which often creates open-mindedness and an understanding of people different from them. In theater, students learn self-confidence. Many of these skills are required to use in any career, or in life in general.
Now that I briefly went over a few of the numerous reasons why electives are essential to the development of the whole child, let’s get back to my experience as a French teacher.
Ever since I was a young child, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. In middle school, I discovered I wanted to be a French teacher as I fell in love with the language right away. I went on to pursue a French teaching degree, paying for an expensive study abroad program in France, and barely graduating with a French degree due to its pending cancellation, I finally got a French teaching position at a middle school. I was so excited to finally land my dream job! Little did I know, reality would slap me in the face.
I learned on day one that core teachers have an advantage over elective teachers, at least that was my experience. Click To Tweet
I learned on day one that core teachers have an advantage over elective teachers, at least that was my experience.
Here is why: First, the school could only offer me a part-time teaching position due to not having enough students signed up for French. On the other hand, there weren’t enough teachers for the core classes and the school was always looking for more. Second, I was not given a classroom, but a cart. Any teacher who has taught on a cart knows how much of a challenge it can be. I pushed my cart around the school and taught in three different classrooms, none of them mine. I did not have a classroom. Some of my colleagues had two classrooms. Thirdly, the most significant hardship I faced was the non-existent French curriculum at the school. I had to reinvent the wheel basically on my own. In comparison, the core teachers had ample resources and curriculum, and time to collaborate together. I had none of that.
I had a fellow French teacher, but due to how the schedules were created for elective teachers, I was not given the same amount of time to work with my department. The core teachers had collaboration time together an hour every day, and the elective teachers were limited to 15 minutes a week. Talk about unfair! I am not sharing this to be pitied but to bring to light the reality of what it is like to be an elective teacher. For me it felt like as an elective teacher, I and my classes were treated as an afterthought. I do not blame the school where I taught French for the problem, I blame society as a whole, and more specifically the politicians that know next to nothing about education.
I do not blame the school where I taught French for the problem, I blame society as a whole, and more specifically the politicians that know next to nothing about education. Click To Tweet
When politicians focus on spending more money for STEM sciences, and programs to develop STEM courses, oftentimes electives are left in the dust. All too often the arts are seen as “the fun” classes or “extra” when they should be just as important as core classes. Since they are viewed as “just for fun” they are almost always the first classes dropped when there are budget cuts. For some reason, our society focuses so much on educating students to pass standardized tests in math, science, English, and history, that we forget that education is about giving opportunities to the student to develop as a human being, not to pass a test. This is a detriment to our future. The electives are necessary to grow independent, well-rounded, open-minded, collaborative, and creative individuals that the world needs. While the STEM classes have their place, we cannot forget about the electives.
Sadly, at the end of my first year as a French teacher, I was not able to stay for a second year as the school was unable to provide for me a full-time job. As a result, I had to leave to search for a full-time opportunity. I had to leave teaching and find a full-time job elsewhere as I needed to pay my bills. I know this is the case with several teachers like me, which is a tragedy. My goal is to bring awareness to this issue with the hopes that things will change in time.
STEM teachers, I urge you to be advocates for your fellow art teachers. Elective teachers, keep fighting the good fight. It is worth it! What you do is important. Share your story. The more people who know the truth about the disparities between life as a core teacher and life as an elective teacher, the better. Who knows? Maybe this could ignite a comeback in elective courses nationwide.
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