Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Team Teaching and Its Discontents

The other day I heard about someone who wants to quit because of team teaching. You don't hear that every day. I mean, I get complaints about team teachers fairly regularly. This one's crazy. This one is awful. This one doesn't understand anything. Then you talk to the partners and likely as not, they say the same things about their counterparts.

Some people just don't get along. To assign such people to a veritable marriage is beyond idiotic, but inevitable in a system in which the standard is something like, "I need two volunteers. You, and you. Now you are team teachers." As chapter leader, I get sucked into the middle of these situations, and that's the very worst place to be. It's particularly inconvenient if your job happens to be representing both of the feuding parties.

I'll tell you a secret--I don't like everyone. I'm courteous to everyone, but I don't want to team teach with everyone. We complain that there's no training, and that's an absolutely valid point. But I've been to training, well before I ever co-taught, and what training I've seen is woefully inadequate. There's this model, where one person instructs and the other assists. There's that, where you take turns. There's some other, where you do something else. But hey, if  you hate me and everything I stand for, there's not gonna be any particularly great model.

This notwithstanding, I don't oppose team teaching. I'm sure I've written this before, but I had a great experience with a team teacher. She and I had very different personalities and inclinations. We had very different approaches to teaching. But I think we were good influences on one another. We got along well in front of the kids and I think that, in itself, made us good role models. She has endless patience while I have almost none whatsoever, but we found ways to work around that.

None of this, bad, good, or otherwise, would likely cause someone to want to quit teaching, Even if I'm in the worst pair-up on earth, I can look forward to June, If things are truly that awful, few administrators would be stupid enough to give it another year. Some would, but that's probably not why people quit.

The person I heard about was an ESL teacher, like me. Since the geniuses in Albany determined we were around not to teach English to people who, you know, don't know English we've had a pretty tough path. Now our job is to make students pass core subjects, important stuff like math and science. Who cares if a person has no knowledge of basic English structure as long as she's passed a test?

What this has entailed in schools all over the state has been ESL teachers standing around in classrooms while students learned about enzymes and hormones. Or the Civil War. Or Othello. You see, while newcomers may not understand this stuff at all, having an ESL professional in the room makes that okay. While the subject teacher shows the native English speakers what's important, the ESL teacher is supposed to magically provide the English component. There's no extra time to do it, so magic is the prime methodology.

And if you can't do magic, you can go screw yourself. Oh, and when you get a Danielson observation, it's your fault the kid who's been here six weeks can't characterize Atticus Finch.

Imagine you're in five classes like that with five different teachers. I know a high school teacher in that situation, and he's one of many. Imagine you're an elementary school teacher with nine different classes, in which you have no input. I know someone like that too. You are not really a teacher. You're a body, placed somewhere to do a job that is impossible.

You stand there and wonder why you took all those courses. You wonder why you worked to be a teacher and you aren't one. These feelings eat at you, and as time goes on, they expand. They multiply. You wanted to be a teacher, but you're no one.

This is no way to feel good about yourself. Meanwhile, the ELLs are learning nothing. They're failing. They're discouraged. What are administrators to do? Probably blame the teachers. But even if they don't, it's pretty darn depressing to know you're being paid for a position that essentially serves no purpose.

I've been pretty vocal about the degradation of our profession and the innocent children who are going down with us. But I'm fortunate in that I happen to have multiple certifications and thus do not absolutely have to co-teach. Many of my colleagues, and many of their students are not remotely so fortunate.

That is nothing short of a disgrace. We're wasting the time of children and teachers. And this teacher isn't the first I've heard who's contemplating a career change over this nonsense. We're wasting desperately needed teachers as well. In the era of Donald Trump, NY States ELLs need all the support we can give them. Instead, they have the myopic NY State Regents. If they knew nothing about language acquisition, it would represent an improvement.
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