The ‘Specials’ Are Essential to Education

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February 21, 2023

This is the sixth in a series of guest blogs by the 2022-23 Michigan Regional Teachers of the Year. Ashleigh Lore is an elementary teacher at Delta Center Elementary School in Grand Ledge Public Schools.
Note: Some “specials” educators oppose being referred to as “specials” teachers because they feel the title suggests the content found within these classrooms is optional, extra or not “core” to an educational experience. I use the term “specials” in this article because it is a commonly understood term, but also as the ultimate definition of what we do as educators for our students: We provide a special or unique environment for learning that breaks the “traditional” classroom mold.
Educators in the fields of music, visual art, physical education, dance, theater, media arts, foreign language and more have a unique role in the school environment. We often see all or a significant amount of the student population, and sometimes, over the course of many years. This gives us the ability to watch students develop in more ways than just academically and allows us the opportunity to have a broader understanding of the school climate and culture. In addition to our academic content that often traverses across the curriculum into every other subject, we teach the integral parts of being human: physical health, curiosity, empathy, expression and creativity.
Along these lines, I have the privilege of watching my students discover and/or nurture their intrinsic value. In a world where rewards and instant gratification are the norm, I can help my population understand and attach their value and self-worth in other ways. We work together as a team to create things together, make mistakes and discoveries, and learn how each person’s contribution is essential to an ensemble’s success. Every voice and every choice matters, no matter how big or small.
As you can see, we ARE an essential part of developing the academic, social and emotional future. But I ask that you do not take my word for it alone. I recently asked my students why they think their specials classes are so important (and told them that not every school has all the classes they have available to them). Here are a few of their responses:
“Every school deserves specials because it allows you to get a break to experience different feelings.” – Third Grade Student
“I love specials because you learn about new things. And if someone just said to you no more specials, I would say you would not learn that much without specials.” – Second Grade Student
“They give you an opportunity to try new things. For me, I don’t do music outside of school, so I learn so many things, and I think everyone should be able to.” – Third Grade Student
“I like music because I love to sing. Also, it helps you to pick what instrument you could play and love when you grow up. I also love art because you can create whatever you want. And you can spread your emotions on a piece of paper, and I believe it is amazing.” – Fourth Grade Student
“Gym gives you exercise. And you get smarter.” – Second Grade Student

“Music is important to kids because it helps them learn how to play a certain instrument. It also teaches rhythm. Some kids like music because playing instruments helps them cope with stress and anxiety.” – Fourth Grade Student
“I love all my specials because they help me find out who I am.” – Third Grade Student
These responses are just a small selection of what I received from my over 500 students. I laughed, I cried, and I took to heart every single response, because as you can imagine, every student had something slightly different to say. “Specials” are essential, and our students know it, too.