Teaching can sometimes be a lonely job.
Hidden away in the confines of our classroom walls, only those lucky enough to have a place in the classroom are able to fully appreciate the wonderful and the embarrassingly awful little moments between teacher and student.
We lament the fact that no one in the staffroom got to witness the moment when you had the class laughing at your joke, the ‘Eureka moment’ when you clarified a difficult language point and saw the ‘ah-hah’ look in their faces, and the heart-melting moment when you got shy little Erika to speak up about that film she is so passionate about.
But we are secretly glad that only the students were privy to the embarrassing moment you tried to explain your way out of one of those grammatical confusions that you knew nothing about, the awful moment when you corrected a student for an error they didn’t make, and the time when you had to frantically flick through a dozen handouts and three teachers’ books to find the answer key to the task you’d set them. And then hope that the students weren’t aware of what had just happened.
In order to alleviate this inherent loneliness of our job, you could consider the merits of team teaching and allow all your award-winning teaching moments, alongside your cringe-worthy moments, to be shared with another teacher.
So what is team teaching?
Team teaching is the combining of two or more teachers to teach a class. Often, in schools where there are not enough teachers to do so, the students of two or more classes are combined.
If the alleviation of your loneliness is not argument enough for your school’s management, here are some other reasons why you might want to team teach.
No more boring classes
Having a different teacher could certainly inject new energy into the classroom, and having students from another class can also provide a certain level of excitement. Team taught classes are usually more dynamic and interactive as having different voices, life experiences and personality types can act as additional resources to the classroom.
Many hands, light work
Having another teacher in the classroom means better monitoring during individual or group tasks. Better guidance and scaffolding can be provided, and there is less chance for the weak and shy students to get overlooked. If a writing task is being carried out, having more teachers mean that more students’ writing work can be coached and corrected on the spot.
Better learning opportunities
If classes are big, a single teacher is more likely to make use of top-down transmission techniques, rendering the students passive receptors without opportunities to practice using the language. Team teaching can sometimes encourage more independent learning, allowing students to learn at their own pace via more discovery and exploration of the language, and with the teachers acting as facilitators and coaches, rather than lecturers.
Putting together the different expertise of different teachers can be good for the students and for the development of the teachers as they watch and learn from each other. Teachers can share and discuss ideas (and steal them for their own future use!) regarding methodology, rapport with students, classroom activities, classroom management, use of technology and Interactive Whiteboards, etc.
In this lonely job of ours, often, the only feedback we get is from our observations done by either a Director of Studies or a school inspector. In such situations, we tend to do our best lesson and make sure our ‘performance’ is up to standard because our jobs and livelihoods are at stake. What we need, however, is a less risky form of observation where we can teach a regular lesson and get feedback from our peers. The kind of feedback we agree to give depends on the rules that your team have decided upon (see below).
Many schools will be familiar with the room shortage situations that intensify during the busy seasons. Combining two classes (and two teachers) can be a good way to solve the problem (for the short term).
So you decide that you might want to give team teaching a try. What are some of the things you might want to consider? There are questions that you might find helpful to answer before embarking on your team teaching adventure; questions to make potential obstacles less of an issue:
The scope of your team teaching endeavor
How long will this go on for? Is it a one-off? Or will it be trialed for a term?
What are your long term goals?
How will you deal with assessment?
Numbers in a team
The number of students in a class can affect learning. Research in American middle schools suggests that one should not go above 90 students in a class for engaging in team-level activities (Flowers et al, 2000).
But the number of teachers in a team can also affect how well team teaching works. John Lounsbury, publications editor of National Middle School Association, tells Education World that a team of four or five teachers might be too large as the diverse personalities might lead to disagreements. So an ideal number of two or three teachers might be what it takes to make the team work well.
Managing the team
Should there be a team leader?
What responsibilities would the team leader take on? What responsibilities do the team members have? Who writes the student reports?
Would there be space to debate and discuss methodology? Professional disagreement can be both ‘expert and collegial’ (Anderson and Speck, 1998)
What is the team approach to correction? To guided discovery and learner autonomy? And to following lesson plans?
How would you deal with team members who are less flexible and prefer to stick to one method of teaching?
How often should team members meet to plan for the lesson?
Should everyone bring in their own ideas for classroom activities and pitch to the team leader? Or should it be put a vote each time?
Who should give the instructions for that activity? Who should monitor?
Feedback from the team
What kind of feedback should be given to fellow team members?
When should feedback be given? During planning sessions? Or will there be a meeting after each lesson to unpack what happened during a lesson?
Should the feedback only be positive? (This would reduce the possibility of altercations within the team, but would potentially also stunt opportunities for growth and development)
If negative feedback were to be included, how can one ensure an atmosphere of respect and constructive provocation?
If a teacher sees another teacher giving the wrong information to the students, should they resolve the situation on the spot or wait till later?
Feedback from students
How are students reacting to the team teaching experiment?
How will we find out? Will there be a survey?
And, when you’ve carried out your first team teaching experiment, you might want to write a blogpost about it.
Anderson, R. S. and B. Speck. (1998) Oh, what a difference a team makes: Why team teaching makes a difference. Teacher and Teacher Education 14, no. 7: pp 671-686.
Flowers, N., S. B. Mertons, P.F. Mulhall. (2000) How Teaming Influences Classroom Practices. Middle School Journal, November: pp 52-59.
Chia Suan Chong is a General English and Business English teacher and teacher trainer, with a degree in Communication Studies (Broadcast and Electronic Media) and an MA in Applied Linguistics and English Language Teaching from King’s College London.
Fascinated by the interplay between culture, language and thought, Chia is also an intercultural skills trainer and materials developer, and is now based in York.
She is also the voice of @ETprofessional on Twitter. You can find out more about her on her blogsite www.chiasuanchong.com