To Departmentalize or Not Departmentalize?

I write a lot about how my school is departmentalized and I often get questions from readers about how we make it work, what grade levels participate, how it's broken up, etc. So, I thought I would address some of the questions I get the most.

Do you have a homeroom class that you see at the start and end of each day?

I start each day with my own homeroom. They are with me until 10:15 when we "switch" and I take my partner's homeroom for the remainder of the day. My partner's homeroom is with me through dismissal.

Here's a peek at my schedule:

How do you send home notes/info/flyers/graded papers with them?

We use homework journals (future post!) and in the back we hot glue a pocket labeled "Notes Between Home and School" for things that need to go home immediately. Otherwise, school flyers, graded papers and PTA info goes home in our school-wide Tuesday Folders. I don't know how we picked Tuesday, but they go home on Tuesday.

My partner and I have chosen to set aside time to go over any and all homework in this weird and awkward 20 minute period between Specials and Lunch. I always have her homework to pass out and she has mine. This way, the kids get everything at once and there are no excuses and stories about "Mrs. S didn't pass out homework!" :) 

How do you and your fellow teachers let each other know what to write home in the students' daily binders regarding behavior problems that day? 

We jumped on the clip chart bandwagon last year and we are loving it. For students that need it, we send home a weekly behavior chart. What I like is that there are boxes for the student or teacher to color in how their morning was and how they ended their day. I would share it with you, but I didn't make it. :-( I'll ask my friend if I can post it later.

Other than the homework journals, we don't use a daily binder. We've tried it, but it didn't work for us. By the time a child is in the third grade, I don't think they need a "daily" behavior sheet. We actually have a few 1st and 2nd grade classes who have adopted the same theory. I know in other schools, parents like to have that daily communication - and I certainly offer it to parents who ask. I just avoid "extra" work when I can!

My partner and I talk ALL the time. I call her my "work wife." :) In the same sense, if a student had a problem in my room, I need to write the note home. If they have a major problem in the afternoon, then my partner takes care of it. We also prefer phone calls. They are more personal and we feel like we connect with our families on a stronger level.

Also, do students carry their book bags to each class?

Yes. Since they dismiss with me, my partner's homeroom brings everything with them. This is a school-wide system for us.

How do you handle parent-teacher conferences?

We used to do 40+ conferences together. It was my idea and it made us crazy people.

Now we sort the kids into 4 categories:

Needs ELA only, Needs Math only, Practically Perfect and It Will Take 2 Of Us to Make it Through This :) 

Who partners the teachers together? How does that work?

I. Am. Blessed. My teaching partner is one of my very best friends. When we were paired together, though, we were very nervous. We knew it would make us or break us. Communication is KEY. If something is bothering one of us - if we're late switching too many days in a row, if one of us has forgotten to send something home - we TALK about it IMMEDIATELY. When you bury your frustrations, it blows up in your face. I also trust her implicitly. She is responsible for the math, science and social studies scores on my state tests. I never question whether or not my kids are getting the best math instruction possible. She extends me the same courtesy.

Our principal always asks at the end of each year who we think we would work best with, and if we have any requests for change in the upcoming year. I know as a staff we are lucky to have administrators who take the time to hear us out. I've seen people "thrown together" who don't get along and it creates a toxic learning environment for your students. You may not have the perfect partner (and you certainly can't borrow mine!) but you can find ways to make the best of it. Compromise, compromise, compromise!!

Which grade levels in your school participate?

We are departmentalized in grades 1st - 5th. It started in 5th grade for a couple of years, then 4th grade joined in, then 3rd and a year or so later we added 1st and 2nd to the mix. There has been debate over whether or not it's good for 1st and 2nd, as well as whether our inclusion population can handle the transition. I can't speak for 1st and 2nd grade teachers, but I can attest to how our inclusion kids adjust. While it does take the inclusion kids longer to "acclimate" to the transitions, they succeed because they are getting two teachers who are teaching to their strengths.

Pros? Cons?

Pros: I am absolutely teaching to my strengths. If a lesson "bombs," I get a redo immediately so I know what to fix for the next day. If an angel child is on my last nerve, I only have them for half of the day. The kids enjoy this to - They always have an opportunity to turn their day around... as long as you give it to them! Instead of bonding with 20+ kids, I have 40+ relationships each year.

Cons: I have definitely lost some of my math teaching tricks. So, I look for opportunities in the summer to teach math (summer school) and I seek out professional development and books to read. You have to be proactive about this. The ELA team definitely has a larger work load. HOWEVER. My partner recognizes this and frequently helps out by completing required paperwork whenever she can. I will say it again - No. You cannot have her.

I hope this has been helpful! If you have any other questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below and I'll do the best I can to answer them!


  1. I teach at a departmentalized school as well. However, I see 3 groups of kiddos throughout the day. I wish we only saw 2 groups of kids and had 1 switch.

    I prefer to be departmentalized; however, you're right...you have to have a good partner/team. I've been on teams that just flat out didn't work. I also think you have to have complete trust and respect for the other person. For instance, if one of my co-workers (the math teacher) is running late to switch classes, then you have to respect that they are in the midst of teaching or discipline and they "need" that time. Parent contact is a big issue with us b/c last year we tried to just contact our homeroom kiddos to make it easier on us. However, parents would say "I heard from Ms. so & so, but not from you so I didn't know Little Timmy had any missing homework in your class." Even though, we would tell them that they were missing work in all 3 classes. This year we decided to call any parents whose kids are failing or are borderline at progress report time. We also use a clipchart & it works great for us. We write home in agendas daily. This is a school-wide policy to help with parent/teacher communication.

    1. Oh wow!

      I can't imagine 3 switches. We lose at least 10 minutes just switching some days!

      Our school provides agendas, but my partner and I find our homework journals work just as well. I agree though, that each child needs some sort of "communication journal" whether it be through a binder/agenda/what-have-you when there are multiple teachers involved.

  2. I love your post! Our school is considering becoming departmentalized next year in 4th and 5th grade. Your post has answered a lot of my questions. However, I was wondering what happens if you have an odd number of teachers one year? How do you split up the subjects?

    Fourth Grade Garden

    1. Hi Liliris!

      We have been very fortunate to have "even" numbers on most teams for several years. However, last year we did have 7 2nd grade classes. The extra room became the inclusion classroom and the teacher taught all subjects.

      Many many years ago, we had 5 5th grade classes and they attempted a two person switch and a 3 person rotation, but that was crazy, weird and really confusing for the kids.

      We've been fortunate in that when there has been an "odd" number of classes, someone is usually glad to have their own room. :)

  3. I absolutely love being departmentalized. My teacher friends and I have been this way for about 7 or 8 years now. I can't imagine going back! We actually do a 4 person rotation which works out great for us. It is interesting to see how other teachers handle departmentalization. Thanks for sharing.

    Teaching Fourth

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Last year (2012-13) our third grade team decided to departmentalized. Each of us picked a subject, either reading, math, or writing. The reading and writing teacher also included the science and social studies standards in lessons. We loved it! It was great to focus on planning one subject especially as we made the switch to Common Core. We start the day and end the day with our own kids. They carried the reusable WalMart bags with a binder, homework folder, pencil, and good fit book from class to class. This year we have four sections of third so we will work in two teacher teams. One teacher will teach ELAand the other scien e,social studies, and math.

  6. Would you be willing to share how 2nd grade at your school departmentalizes? Our principal would like for us to try it this year grades 2-5. Any scheduling, ideas, etc. would be greatly appreciated. Also, how did you all convey the information to parents, so that their minds were eased?