Switching to specialty classes boosts teaching energy

Maliq McLemore and Omar Cruz, both in third grade, learn the fine details from “Mrs. Davis”

Twenty seven years ago, teachers Kevin Shuneson and Sandy Davis each stepped into a fourth-grade Sparta classroom for the first time. They taught side by side in a grade level that Shuneson calls the “sweet spot.”

“I never wanted to go to another building. I think 9- to 10-year olds are so interesting,” he said.

”I loved teaching at the fourth-grade level. It is the perfect grade,” she said.

But this year Appleview Elementary has two new fourth-grade teachers. Shuneson now teaches physical education and Davis teaches art.

Art teacher Sandy Davis stops by to make sure third-grader Mia May gets the process

Finding new passion

“The transition from general-ed classroom into a specials teacher has sparked new learning and new energy for both them and the students,” said Appleview Principal Mike Birely. “In my opinion, it has ignited a new fire under both of them.”

Davis and Shuneson have indeed found new energy with their career changes.

“I have always been creative and my classrooms were always the ones decorated down the hallway,” said Davis. “And I always tried to do at least one art project with each unit. But as curriculums changed, it became harder and harder to find time to do specialty projects during class time.”

Today she incorporates the classroom curriculum into the art room.  “If I know what they are doing in their studies, I try to do something that complements it,” she said. “I take a lot of what I do now from what I did a fourth-grade classroom.”

“There is something really exciting about starting something new,” said Shuneson. He is especially inspired by being physically active all day long.

“Every 45 minutes a new group comes in and we start each class doing a series of exercises together. It is really a good thing for me and I am so thankful that I am healthy enough to run around with the kids.”

Knowing when the time is right

Both said they weren’t looking to move positions, but when the opportunity arose, it was time for a change.

Shuneson has always been involved in sports as a high school player and a coach. He started his Sparta career as a junior varsity basketball coach and has been involved with a number of district teams throughout the years.

“The timing was right for me and since there was an opening, I jumped at it,” he said of the move to become Appleview’s PE teacher. “I am not sure that I would have been ready to leave the classroom before this, but this is great end-of-career challenge.”

Davis said that she was finding required testing and curriculum changes increasingly challenging, but she wasn’t ready to give up teaching.

“When the opportunity to teach something else came up, I knew I was ready for it,” she said. “This was the right age group and I knew I loved art.”

Now she “can’t wait” to get to school each morning. “Every day, when I am driving to school, I think, ‘I love my job; I can’t believe I get to do this today.’”

Kevin Shuneson spends some time teaching techniques before class

Loving change, challenges and all

Both miss working closely with other general education teachers, they admit.

“I am definitely more or an island over here,” said Shuneson. “It is way different than working in same hallway with the same six or seven teachers all day.”

But overall the change has been good, both teachers say.

“It has been exciting for me to figure out how to do this; how to set up the room so students get the most out of their experiences in here,” said Davis.

“I used to spend my nights grading papers.  Now I spend that time looking for ideas for projects to use in my art classes.”

Added Shuneson, “I used to have six (class) preps a night. Now I have one, but the standards are defined and it is all new to me.”

The biggest plus for both, they said: getting “to see all of the kids in the building and not just some of them.”

Janice Holst
Janice Holst has been both a teacher and a journalist. Recently retired from a fulltime staff position with MLive, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and is thrilled to spend some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio

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