I told myself a couple weeks ago that I would spend a couple hours a week adding to this blog by writing about teaching ideas that are important to me. One of the reasons I decided to do this was because I am tired of focusing on how busy I am. Yes I teach seven and a half classes for three different colleges and universities between four different departments. Yes I also work as a writing tutor/mentor with student-athletes at one of those schools. Yes I have a hard time saying NO to people, so I always make my self available to read or provide feedback on a draft of a chapter or manuscript or syllabus that a friend or colleague is working on. But I am not so busy that I cannot spend time on my own work, my own writing, and my own scholarship. These pieces will be grounded in theory, but I won't necessarily cite much of the research it comes out of, if that makes sense?
Over the last couple years I have been thinking a lot about the idea of co-teaching. While I was in grad school, one of my classmates and I each wanted to propose to a small literacy conference. Separately our topics did not fit the call (I had just finished my pilot study on the Teaching Multicultural Literature course and she was fine-tuning a literature review on using Popular Culture with adolescents), but we realized that if we combined our ideas, it would be a perfect fit. Our proposal (which was accepted) was called "Blending Social Worlds: Using Pop Culture to Engage with Multicultural Literature." After the presentation we were completely blown away at how amazing it was and how fun it was and how much we both changed as educational researchers and teachers and human people. I can honestly say that this collaboration helped me figure out where my future research was going. This classmate eventually became my research partner for my current study. She and I are also teaching a class together that focuses on using digital video as literacy learning tools.
Why have we worked so closely all these years? The easy answer is because we work well together. But why do we work so well together? What makes a great collaborative team? What should we be looking for in a co-teacher? I have learned the hard way what co-teaching doesn't look like. During my first teaching job, we were asked to share the same group of students and share the same classroom. We were told that this was co-teaching. As an early career educator, I thought this was what co-teaching was: you teach your subject and I'll teach mine. You can sit at the desk while I teach and then I'll get the desk while you're teaching. The teacher with whom I shared a classroom suggested I take the first block (mostly so he could come in late) and told me he didn't want to restrict my planning process in any way, so we did not plan or coordinate our lessons in any way. This was not a good example of co-teaching. This was not an example of co-teaching at all.
I have my pre-service teachers co-teach at least twice during the semester. Part of this assignment is that they need to co-plan together. When I first present this to them, I always leave room for their groans. They instinctively think of this work as group work and group work usually does not have positive connotations. I explain to them that co-teaching is not group work. It is collaborative work. These terms may sound like synonyms, but they are actually quite different concepts. Co-teaching involves working as a team. It isn't one person does one thing and the other person does another thing; it's let's work together at the same time in order to figure out how we can best serve our students. Sure, there are points where one teacher takes the lead and the other supports them, but that still follows the collaboration model.
I tell my pre-service teachers that the best part about co-teaching for me is working and learning from someone who comes from a different place than I do. Part of why my research partner and I work so well together is because she and I are not coming from the same place. Our research interests intersect, but we definitely do not come from the same place or end at the same place. I feel like I learn as much from her as I learn from our students. It also helps that we've been working together in this capacity for a while - we can riff off of each other and there are many times where we complete each others' thoughts/sentences. This never happened in my first experience of simply sharing the same classroom. My research partner and I know how to plan together too. She knows it drives me crazy to wait until the last minute to plan and I know she plans best at the last minute. This means I do a lot of pre-planning leading up to our weekly meeting. I also talk to her throughout the week and slip our class topics or ideas into those conversations. It's important to know how to plan best with your co-teacher.
And co-teachers should always co-plan together. In my opinion, it is not truly co-teaching if the lesson/unit is not planned together. We should not enter into planning as a you build the handouts or figure out which texts to read and I'll create the activities kind of thing. You should be sitting down together (even if it is virtually via video/phone chat or a Google doc) and building the lesson/unit together. It should be a conversation. My research partner and I start at one place with our lesson and usually always end up somewhere else by the end. And our lesson is better because of the discussion. Our students get more out of these lessons too. And we get more out of our students because of these revisions and changes.
Many of my colleagues co-teach and they all love it. Being able to share the responsibility of teaching is a great help, but most of the people I know who co-teach talk about how dynamic the lessons are because they are able to create them from multiple viewpoints. Who we are as teachers is important because it helps our students understand who we are and who we are influences how we teach a topic. One of my colleagues is an English/Language Arts teacher and his co-teacher is a Special Education teacher with a background in History. One is a gay, White male and the other is a straight, Haitian woman. These are just a few of the ways they each identify. When they plan their lessons they are coming from so many different intersections and use these to their advantage. Who we are as teachers is multiplied when we co-teach and co-plan with someone else.
Do you have experience (good or bad) co-teaching or collaborating? I'd love to hear about them. Comment below!