A Look At Specialist Vs Generalist Teachers In Education

in Education2 years ago

Hi there. In this post, I talk about subjects taught by specialists versus subjects taught by generalist teachers. As I am a math person, I will include some math stuff here. I bring up some of my past experiences as a young student and offer some thoughts.



  • Quick Notes On School Systems
  • Math Taught By Generalist Teachers
  • Math Taught By Specialist Teachers
  • Generalist Or Specialist Teachers, Education Can Be Bad At Times


Quick Notes On School Systems

I want to start off and say that not all education is the same. This is because of different school systems, different teaching philosophies, different teachers, different course offerings and the list goes on. As much as the phrase "being educated" sounds nice and all but I feel that it is still vague. In addition, "being educated" does not necessarily mean smart nor skilled. There are smart and/or skilled people out there who are not highly educated. (This is a topic for another time perhaps.)

Depending on your country, state/province, region and city, students will have to follow certain rules and guidelines within a school system. Certain school systems could be easy for students, some could be tougher, some may focus on music and arts and others may focus on the sciences.

Contents of this post is from my experiences as a student and could be inaccurate.

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Generalist Teachers

From grades one to eight, the teachers that I had were mainly generalist teachers who taught subjects ranging from English, Writing, Grammar, Mathematics, Science, Religion (I was in a Catholic school), Physical Education and History. Looking back I thought the schooling I got was okay overall. It was not awful but it wasn't amazing.

I do recall that in grade seven, my teacher at the time could have explained negative numbers a bit better. She taught it in a way that is just purely memorizing without really understanding. For adding a positive number and a negative number an elevator visualization would have been nice. It would be start at this positive number and go down this many steps as the second number is negative. A positive minus a greater positive number results in a negative number less than zero as you went "below ground level".

Dealing with subtracting a negative number was not explained well back then. It was explained to me in grade seven as minus a negative is adding. This is a good rule but provides no insight on why it is like that. A better way to look at subtracting a negative number is to consider the distance between two numbers. Consider the example 5 minus -7. How far is 5 from negative 7? Instead of doing the rule of 5 + 7 right away, use the number 0 as a friend. The distance from 5 to 0 is 5 and the distance from 0 to negative 7 is 7. Combining 5 and 7 together gives 12 which is the right answer.

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Specialist Teachers

I did have a few specialized French teachers back in elementary school. Each grade had their own dedicated time slot during the day for French class. The French teachers were knowledgable and provided some good exercises.

In my high school years (grade nine to twelve), the teachers were no longer generalists as they were specialists. The teachers I had were good specialists for the most part.

I found that the specialist teachers were not only highly skilled and knowledgable they also showed a bit more passion in their teaching. It could have been the high school I was at.

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Generalist Or Specialist, Education Can Be Bad At Times

I think that regardless if the teacher is a generalist teacher teaching many different subjects or a specialist teacher, if the teacher is bad the teacher is bad. A teacher with ineffective communication or a teacher with a bad personality ruins the education experience for the students.

My grade 12 calculus teacher was not the worst teacher ever but she could have been a bit better. This grade 12 calculus teacher came back from maternity leave and her personality was not particularly pleasant. The one part that stood out was that we were doing product rule derivatives for cases where quotient rule is preferred. This teacher corrected herself a day or two late. We did the extra algebra steps in our homework for nothing. Ugh.

The Physics teacher I had in grade 11 and 12 was not very good. I took Physics for the subject and overlooked the teacher the second time around. I found the concepts and teacher instructions confusing at the time. Looking back she tried to be funny like Ellen Degeneres or something but she was just weird. This teacher got me turned off from doing engineering and influence me to try to be an accountant at that period in time.

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Thank you for reading.