Saturday, March 17, 2018

Co-teaching, Part 154, This World, and the World of Theory

I'm still at NYSABE. There is a lot of good stuff going on. Everyone here supports ELLs. UFT VP Evelyn de Jesus, speaking this morning, quoted a Czech proverb, You live a new life for every language you speak, and expressed support for tweaking Part 154 so that we could give ELLs the language instruction they need.

Alas, until that happens, we have to deal with what's in front of our faces. That's why I chose to attend a presentation about co-teaching. The presentation was certainly thoughtful. In an ideal world, everyone would follow the practices the presenter espoused. The problem is we're not quite in an ideal world. I made the egregious error of answering two questions before I realized I was thinking about a universe that was not precisely relevant to the topic at hand.

The first question was, "What is co-teaching?" My answer was co-teaching is when the principal says, "You, and you, go teach together." This was not well-received by my group. They said co-teaching is a relationship. It's a marriage. It's a negotiation. They weren't wrong. But I wasn't wrong either.

The presenters weren't totally out of the loop on what goes on. For example, the presenter acknowledged that the ESL teacher often appears to be an educational assistant. The young woman next to me said she often felt that way. In fact, she said, two of the teachers with whom she co-teaches don't even acknowledge her presence in the room.

So think about that. If co-teaching is a marriage, this young woman is conducting at least three marriages concurrently. I don't know about you, but that's a high bar for me. If we really wish these things to work, why are we setting such impossible standards? The presenter said when you have issues with your co-teacher, the best thing to do is go out for a drink or something. Don't go to the principal and complain. As the person who's often in the room with the principal and the co-teachers who've complained, I couldn't agree more. Alas, it's always too late.

The second time I opened my mouth I made yet another faux pas. What's the main issue with co-teaching? The main issue, I said, was that the English language was not regarded as sufficiently important under Part 154 to be regarded as a subject. Another attendee took exception to that. "Did you try telling your co-teacher about specific English errors, as opposed to simply labeling them "awkward?"

Now she isn't wrong about that. Were I paired up with the science teacher I might be able to offer specific suggestions on how to more effectively improve composition skills. She thought I was expressing some sort of feeling of inferiority or envy, as though I weren't being appreciated. That's not the case at all. I have multiple certifications, and I don't actually need to co-teach.

What I'm talking about is the fact that these co-taught ESL classes come at the expense of direct English instruction, something my kids direly need. There is simply no substitute for it. How would you like to go to China and be placed in a Chinese history class taught entirely in Chinese? Would it help you if I gave you five vocabulary words every day? Would it help you if I had a Chinese as a second language teacher wandering around the room to give you tips on what the hell the other teacher was talking about? Maybe a little, but probably not remotely enough for you to learn Chinese history.

Under CR Part 154, what really happens when you plant the ESL teacher in the science class? As someone who struggled with science in my native language, I don't really see how I could be expected to learn not only science, but also a new language, especially in the same time native speakers learned only science. No matter how many good ideas you have about co-teaching, that's an insurmountable obstacle right there. Furthermore, it's made worse by the fact that the ESL teacher likely has several other co-teachers and little or no time to consult with any of them.

The presenter said two heads are better than one. That's potentially true. Last year I was in a great co-teaching situation. After having mediated between bitter pairs of teachers for years, I told my boss I never wanted to co-teach. Unfortunately, I'd also told her how quick-witted and smart I found one of our new teachers. My AP, to prove me wrong yet again, paired me up with her and we got along very well. Our only issue was how fast we did things. I make decisions very quickly, and she always wanted to think about things. "We have no time for that!" I'd tell her, but she persisted. Nonetheless, whenever I got called out to some stupid meeting somewhere, I had absolute confidence my students were well-cared for.

Co-teaching would be great if we were actually adding something. Under Part 154, we add a co-teacher, but we take away a fundamental element of language learning, to wit, time. You don't acquire a language simply by wishful thinking and good intentions. Adding a co-teacher to one period does not mitigate the fact that you've subtracted another period of direct English instruction. Not only have you failed to compensate for that, but you've also taken time away from the core subject by adding language instruction to it.

Hey, it's great for co-teachers to get along. And it's great to add extra classroom support. But in New York State, they're attacking the problem backwards. If you couldn't climb a mountain in one day, I'd suggest you take two or three days to do it. New York State says do it in half a day, but here, bring someone with you.

How stupid is that?
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