We Are Not Special

This all started out from my favorite Andy, (sorry Mr. Horne, Mr. Vasily, Mr. Hair, and Mr. Warhol), Mr. Andy Milne stating, “I hate being called a specialist.” I was genuinely surprised. I had never taken offense to being called a specialist, although truthfully I never really thought about what it meant. I asked what he wanted to be called. He replied, ” a teacher”. The more I thought about the simplicity of the answer the more it made sense.

Here are Andy’s blog thoughts:

In my 23 years of teaching I have been fortunate to work in six high schools, on two continents, all of which have valued physical education and provided students with significant curriculum time for those lessons taught by certified teachers, subject specialists. Occasionally I have taught alongside those who have been employed specifically for their coaching skills, but when that includes a number of former professional and Olympic athletes, I know that my employees have sought out the best they could find, so that students would benefit from their knowledge and expertise.

Recently I had a conversation with my good friend Justin Schleider regarding the use of the word ‘specials’ to describe teachers who teach PE, music, and art. Now I’m a sensitive soul and take offense whenever I am described as anything other than a teacher of physical education. It irks me when I am asked if I am a ‘PE Instructor’, I shudder when I am painted as a ‘games teacher’ and heaven forbid you should describe me as a ‘coach’ during curriculum time. Call me ‘gym teacher’ and you’ll have me asking “who’s Jim?”. Admittedly, at my school physical education is referred to as ‘Kinetic Wellness’ but at least I am seen as a KW teacher, and seen on a par with teaching peers of all subjects.

Although I LOVE the subject that I teach, and although my subject has been proven to boost mood, memory and learning, I don’t see it as any more special than other subjects. The Every Student Succeeds Act (2015) refers to well-rounded students and places physical education firmly ALONGSIDE those seen as traditional ‘core’ subjects such as English, science, math AND arts, music and career education. We are seen as equal.

No one subject is any more special than the other, so don’t seek to separate me and my subject from others in the same building. We teach the same, and cry care about the same students. We aren’t any different because of the types of lessons that we teach.

At a time when all in education should be united, labeling teachers only seeks to cause a divide. When we are seen as specials you can refer to us as them. And then we are one step away from us versus them, real teachers v specials. At that point it makes it easier for PE teachers to be singled out and it makes jokes about our subject more acceptable. At that point it makes it easier for you to define which spaces we can and can’t be allowed in – I defy you to make a comparison between the office spaces that PE teachers have compared to their teaching peers. I’ve literally seen PE teachers in cupboards and storage closets that have doubled up as an office and a place where lost and found can be collected.

Once you other us with your language, you make it easier to accept that students can waive out of my class, or can be exempt from attendance. Once you categorise my class as special you make it acceptable for students to substitute other activities for PE time or credit requirements. Once you see my class as something lesser than yours you make it easier to actively reduce PE time to make way for what are deemed more “serious” or “important” subjects.

Just as you would consider your use of language about and around students, I ask that you consider the language that you use about and around your teaching peers. Use inclusive language that seeks to bring us together. We can accomplish so much more when we work together.

Here are my thoughts on the idea of being a “specialist”.

For those who don’t know I teach Physical Education and Health. I believe that my subject matter is the most important subject taught in school. We are the only subject that comes close to teaching all 7 dimensions of wellness. This makes us Physed and Health teachers “special”ists, right? Sorry for the bad dad joke.

A specialist is not about being special it’s about, “…a person who concentrates primarily on a particular subject or activity; a person highly skilled in a specific and restricted field.” (link) In the schools I have worked in we hear the label of specialists being applied to art, music, physed, Spanish, and technology teachers. However, if we use the above definition wouldn’t a math, science, ELA, or any teacher who teaches a specific subject be a specialist? I would imagine that we all had to pass some sort of test such as the Praxis 2 in order to be highly qualified to teach a specific subject matter. Even if we didn’t, simply teaching that subject over a number of years would make you a specialist by default. Maybe instead of specialists, we get the related arts label slapped on us. You know the subjects that aren’t the main ones. They are just “related”.

Therein lies the problem with the label of specialist or related arts. They are seen as being outside of the academic or core subject areas. They aren’t the almighty reading, writing, and arithmetic. It creates a culture of in groups and out groups. There are the main group of “important” subjects than there are the other lesser important subjects. You know the ones where you become well rounded but really aren’t that necessary.

Now, don’t get me wrong, being an “important” subject brings the pressure of standardized testing which has lead to the decline of creativity and joy in those classes. I wouldn’t want a large part of my evaluation being tied to a standardized test but that is another subject for another time.

The idea of slapping labels on teachers divides us. It is not intentionally done but has the impact anyway. We are all teachers. The system has labeled us for so long that we don’t even question when we hear the term specialists or related arts. The bottom line is if you want to label us call us teachers. If you need to label us for some reason call us non-tested areas.

What are your thoughts on this?


3 thoughts on “We Are Not Special

  1. Pingback: Changing the Perception of Physical Education – #slowchathealth

  2. willswaitheshotmailcom

    Agreed! Could we say the same applies to ‘special educational needs’? I think all of us have unique or special educational needs!



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