Teacher On Special Assignment

I am a first grade teacher, applying for a STEM position as a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA). This will be the first time a position like this has been offered in our district, and ours is the first elementary school to have a STEM focus. What should be the STEM teacher’s role? How do schools facilitate this? Any information that could be passed on would be appreciated.
—Elizabeth, Duluth, Minnesota

Schools are facing the challenge of providing professional development (PD) related to STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Should schools contract with outside consultants? Hire motivational speakers for once-and-done presentations? Expect (or require) teachers to learn on their own?

I’m interested that your school is thinking about using a staff member as a “Teacher on Special Assignment” (TOSA). TOSAs are experienced teachers given release time to assist teachers and administrators with projects related to curriculum and instruction. Often these positions are funded through grants or other special funds. These positions might last one year or several years. The TOSA maintains his or her position on the salary and seniority scale while performing the duties.

I was TOSA for K-12 technology, and my district also had a TOSA for elementary science. We often collaborated on PD projects integrating the two fields. We saw ourselves as “coaches” in these areas. (There is now a wealth of literature in effective coaching.) Basically, it boils down to supporting teachers rather than telling them what to do or doing things for them. TOSAs can support teachers by sharing resources and information, demonstrating strategies, asking questions, hosting PD sessions, and co-teaching. It’s important that teachers see you as a non-evaluative colleague rather than an administrator. This is sometimes a difficult role.

Before you accept the position (I’m being optimistic that you will receive the offer), I would definitely read the job description carefully. It seems like the role should be to build capacity within the faculty in terms of STEM content and practices. If you’re viewed as a “special” and teachers get (or assume they have) a planning period while you teach their classes, it would defeat this purpose. What happens then in those classrooms after you return to your first grade position?

Begin with the end in mind. Based on the current status of STEM subjects in your school, what should change as a result of your assignment? Discuss the goals and expectations with your administrator and share them with the teachers. Talk to the teachers in terms of what they need to know or be able to do to incorporate STEM topics at the elementary level.

Will you still be part of the teaching staff? What other duties might you be assigned? What resources and budget will you have? Will you be able to attend conferences? What happens after the end of the assignment? Work with your teacher’s association and ask for a written statement from the administration about your status and returning to your classroom and teaching assignment. You should definitely have a personal, secure space to work and store materials (i.e., an office).

You’ll probably be responsible for record-keeping related to the project. Keep a detailed log of your days and how you use your time, including preparation time finding information, organizing materials, and preparing demonstration lessons. Log time beyond the school day, too. Consider setting up a project website or using social media to communicate and share with teachers.

In addition to being a TOSA myself, in another position I worked with TOSAs on reading, science, and other PD projects. I think for all of us it was an eye-opening, career-changing experience that was a chance to develop as teacher-leaders, enhance our own classroom teaching, and provide an opportunity to share with and learn from other teachers—the ultimate in professional development.

From your letter, it sounds like you have a lot of STEM experiences to build on and share. Good luck!


Photo:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/benwerd/329570851/

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Under the direction of the principal, assist in developing and implementing programs which will meet students’ academic needs as prescribed by the District. Assume a leadership role as part of the Site Instructional Leadership Team of the school to plan and implement cohesive and effective instruction, programs, and practices.


·     Provide leadership and support to school site by coordinating district initiatives, programs, and federal and state mandates.

·     Assist/lead coordination of district assessments to include, but not limited to, Benchmark assessments, common assessments, CELDT, CST, etc.

·     Understand, utilize, and create reports on DataDirector and other district data management systems.

·     Coordinate data collection, analysis, and site data dialogues to drive instruction.

·     Promote effective classroom teaching by providing demonstration lessons, coaching, and staff inservice in the core subject areas. 

·     Facilitate the implementation of the school site programs and dissemination of information to staff and parents. 

·     Maintain accurate records required for completion of District and state reports.

·     Participate in the site and District parent advisory committees, providing interpreting/translating services, as needed.

·     Support the development and writing of the Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA).

·     Oversee initial/annual identification and placement of English Learners.

·     Assist in reclassifying English learners to Fluent English Proficient (FEP) and monitor progress, if applicable.

·     Provide supplementary instruction and/or assessments to pupils as needed.

·     Attend district level meetings as assigned by the Principal.

·     Support and coordinate site level meetings, i.e. School Site Council (SSC), English Learner Advisory Committee (ELAC), Title I, as assigned by the Principal.

·     Support site in core/supplementary instructional materials distribution and usage.

·     Perform other duties as assigned.


·     Content Standards and Frameworks for California Public Schools

·     Curriculum and student development

·     Effective instructional strategies and techniques

·     District adopted programs and materials

·     District and State assessments

·     Staff development/coaching


·     Organize and plan

·     Communicate effectively orally and in writing (Triliterate English/Spanish/Vietnamese as needed)

·     Interpret and analyze data and assessments

·     Work effectively with students, teachers, parents and school community

·     Group students for core subject area instruction

·     Present to groups

·     Model core subject area lessons

·     Lead group discussions effectively

·     Maintain records and reports

·     Perform the essential functions of the job


·     Bachelor of Arts in English

·     Master's Degree in Educational Leadership

·      15 years of successful classroom teaching

·     Trilingual/Triliterate English/Vietnamese/Spanish


·     Valid California teaching credential

·     Bilingual Cross-Cultural Specialist Credential (BCLAD)

·     Cross-cultural Language Academic Development 

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