Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Co-Teaching and its Discontents

Here's a piece on how to make co-teaching work. It has some great suggestions, and offers multiple models on how co-teaching can work. It also stresses that co-teachers are equals in the classroom. That's an important point, but there are others.

Full disclosure--I co-taught last year and it was a great experience. We didn't really try to follow any particular model. We just kind of kept our eyes on one another. As chapter leader I'd get pulled out of class for various reasons, but I had absolute confidence that my students were in good hands when I was gone. Our only conflict was that I tend to work very fast, and my co-teacher insisted on thinking things through. We had a few arguments over that, but nothing serious.

I've been drawn into multiple co-teaching disasters. Once, two teachers absolutely could not abide one another. They were told to pick one rep each to negotiate how to break the class into two groups, each led by one teacher alone. That is a model, of course, but the feelings these teachers had for one another were palpable. I was one rep, and I worked with the other. We kind of looked at the records of each students and took turns picking which kids would go with which teacher.

One problem is that often co-teachers have no time to plan together. Administrators don't tend to consider that when scheduling. How do you deal with that? In fact, if the teachers really dislike one another, working together more just makes things worse. In the case of the two teachers who hated one another, an AP instructed them to plan together each and every day as part of their C6 assignment. It became unbearable and led to irrevocable differences.

Another problem is the thought processes that go into making teams. I was lucky, because my AP specifically selected a teacher I knew and respected. That isn't always the case. Some pairs are clearly made at random. It won't surprise anyone to hear that these pairings work, at best, randomly. Sometimes they're disastrous. You never know.

Training is also an issue. Most of the time it goes like this. "You and you are teaching together. Good luck with that." I've been to one training session on co-teaching. I remember it because the woman who ran it spent a lot of time reading PowerPoints. She covered a few of the groupings the article mentioned. For me, it was easier to just read the article. I guess some people prefer having things read to them, though I can't think of any over the age of four.

And then there's the equality thing. Part 154 has decreed that ESL teachers will no longer teach ESL, but will instead support students in English, science, or social studies teachers. In the time that American-born students take to learn about the Magna Carta, the ESL teachers are supposed to magically have them learn English, concurrently of course, because God forbid we should just teach them English when they don't know it. Part 154 says the English language is not really a subject, and everyone knows that anything said in Albany must be Absolute Truth.

Make no mistake, you are not an equal when you are with a specialist in another subject area. You don't set the curriculum and you don't set the agenda. And your job, magically making them learn English while someone else teaches history, is fundamentally impossible. The other alternative is to be dually licenced, and be expected to teach both English and social studies, another impossibility.

Models are helpful but not a requirement. Being mindful is more important. An even more important factor, for my co-teacher and I, was that the AP put us together because she knew we respected one another. I have seen many pairings in which factors like that were not considered. You and you, go teach together. No prep, no questions, no nothing.

You're not both available. OK, you have two co-teachers. And you, you have three co-teachers. I've seen that too. Putting two people together for such a long time is a delicate thing. The biggest problem I've seen is people being paired at random.

Not quite state of the art, if you ask me. 
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