I have been teaching here in Bangkok for three months now (wow — time flies!), and I have been mentally keeping track of the things that I like and do not like about co-teaching. These are just my opinions, and I am well aware of the fact that with whom I teach makes a huge difference. Julianne Foxworthy and I wanted to co-teach last year (we’re still cursing FMSD for their prohibitive bureaucracy), and we thought we’d find the experience to be extremely enjoyable, fulfilling, and rewarding for both ourselves and our students, and we would have gone into this situation willingly and with very similar goals, perspectives, and ends-in-view. We’ve worked together in the past (I was her student-teacher in the fall of 2009), and we had great success. My situation here is very different. Rather than choosing my teammates, we were placed together based on subject and availability. Rather than plan for weeks in advance, I showed up two weeks into the school year, and my teammates were already teaching “our” classes. So keep in mind that my opinions are unavoidably convoluted by these less-than-optimal circumstances. Oh and also keep in mind that I really like the teachers I work with.
To provide some background, I co-teach IP4 and IP6 science and IP6 math. The science teacher and I have split up our responsibilities so that this semester, she is leading IP6 (I support), and I am leading IP4 (she supports). In math, the teacher and I trade off leading each chapter. I teach the evens; he teaches the odds.
- so much less prep and work and grading
- having two teachers in the classroom at all times means that one can go to the bathroom when needed
- forgetting one’s book or papers is no big deal — the other teacher can entertain or teach while one runs down the hall and back
- two brains are better than one — tough questions by inquisitive kids are more easily answered when there are two teachers on the case
- kids who are zoning out/sleeping/playing/talking are caught twice as fast!
- collaboration is easy, frequent, and immediate
- there is someone there to ask “Was that OK? Do you think they get it? What should I do tomorrow?”
- we can pull small groups to address specific kids’ learning needs
- no need to write sub plans! (that one is big!)
It’ll be easier to discuss the ‘cons’ without a list. The disadvantages to co-teaching are all related to having different management styles, different priorities, and different philosophies of teaching than my teammates. Though I get along really well with both of the people I co-teach with, I find one to be way too relaxed and casual with management and the other to be dismissive of the importance of caring for the whole child. One will allow an entire class period to go by without actually getting anything done. The other will let a whole class period go by without noticing that some students are struggling or upset or bored or distracted. With one, the kids are loud, talkative, off-task, and rambunctious; with the other, the kids who enjoy school and have an intrinsic motivation to learn do just fine, while others fly under the radar, learning very little. With the first, I feel that my presence is unnecessary and that I’m powerless against the chaos With the other, I feel that I could be doing so much more, but that perhaps he’d rather not have me do anything extra (e.g., I’ve only taken a small group once, and I can’t tell if it was appreciated or not!). The way we have our co-teaching set up, we’re not really sharing authority. The lead teacher is the lead teacher; the other one sort of sits around until he/she is clearly needed. But even when I feel that I am needed (like when things seem out of control), I don’t feel that I have the right to stop the kids from behaving the way they are because I’m not the one in charge. It would feel like I was stepping on my co-teacher’s toes.
Now that I’ve complained, I can reflect on ways in which I can make these partnerships more successful. First and foremost, I should initiate more conversations about collaborating during classes. Having a second teacher in the room is such a luxury, but none of us are coming forward to talk about having a regular system of working with students in this way. I’m looking forward to October because there will be two weeks during which the students will not come to school, but the teachers will. It will give us all a chance to work on grading, report cards, and most importantly on collaboration. I plan to talk with both of my teammates about ways in which we can work together better. Planning together will be great, since we didn’t get to do so before the year began, and having discussions about actual CO-teaching will help us begin the second semester with a new approach (well, that’s what I’m hoping for).
How do you deal with sharing responsibility with co-workers? Any advice for me?