This year I transitioned from teaching English classes in isolation to co-teaching English, science, and technology with another teacher in a pilot program called N.E.W. School. When I initially pitched the program concept to my principal, I emphasized the co-teaching component. I believed that team teaching and sharing the same population of students in a shared space would allow us to make important cross-curricular connections, delve into more meaningful project-based learning, and provide more individualized support and feedback.
As I reflect on this semester, I believe it is the team teaching component of N.E.W. School that makes it so powerful.
#1 Learning from Another Perspective
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when you teach by yourself. We tend to teach content the same way year in and year out with some minor variations. This can cause teachers to become entrenched in their approach and less willing to mix things up. I see this reluctance to experiment all of the time when I am training teachers on blended learning models.
One thing I love about working so closely with my teaching partner–Marika Neto–is her fresh perspective. She is only in her second year of teaching and she is credentialed in English and science. I’m in my fifteenth year of teaching and I’m credentialed in English and technology. We plan and execute every class together with the goal of teaching our subjects in concert instead of in isolation.
Just having another person to bounce ideas off of has been an incredible learning experience for me. It has challenged me to think bigger and make connections between English, science, and technology that I would not have considered before.
#2 Sharing the Load
Teaching is an exhausting profession. Our workload both in and out of the classroom is overwhelming. Ask any teacher what his/her biggest “pain point” is related to teaching and the majority will report “the take home” or “the grading.” Sharing the load with my co-teacher has made a world of difference.
Marika and I use Google Classroom to assign and manage our students’ work. We are both instructors for our class group, which means we can both develop and post assignments, as well as access our students’ work and provide them with feedback. This makes it easy to share the workload even when we are not in a physical space together.
We approach feedback and assessment as a team. If our students are completing a piece of writing or working on a big project, we work together to provide them with ongoing feedback in real time and online. We design our classes to allow time for informal assessments and one-on-one conversations about individual student performance/progress. We also work asynchronously on Google documents providing detailed feedback to help them improve the quality of their work.
There is something so comforting about having a partner to work with and lean on when it comes to managing the workload. There have been times this semester when Marika or I was sick or juggling a sick child and the other picked up the slack and planned an entire day or finished grading an assignment. It has been incredible to have that support system in place. I am not longer alone in my teaching practice and that’s a wonderful feeling.
#3 Making Key Connections Between Subjects
Instead of teaching my subject in isolation, now I am constantly striving to make connections between English, science, and technology. In our Mental Health Unit, we read and performed Romeo and Juliet while researching mental health conditions and studying the human brain. Students were challenged to think about what they were learning about the brain, decision making, and mental health issues and apply that new information to the characters in Shakespeare’s play. Their formal piece of writing was a psychoanalysis of a character from Romeo and Juliet, which required that they analyze one character’s behavior in the play to find out what was revealed about that character’s mental health from those behaviors using evidence from both the play and credible online sources.
Then students did a deep dive into a specific mental health issue for their unit project. They were asked to become the experts on a mental health condition then use a creative medium to raise awareness about that issue. We had students build models showing how anxiety affects the body, compose original songs and write children’s books about depression, create art installations focused on substance abuse, and design a virtual reality experience to shed light on what it’s like to navigate the world with autism.
It’s beyond exciting to see students pull together all of the information they are learning and skills they are developing in our program to create such powerful pieces!
Co-teaching has both challenged and inspired me to grow as an educator. It’s given me a fresh perspective on teaching, support in managing the workload, and a better sense of how to connect different subjects to make learning more meaningful for students.
I realize that shifting to a co-teaching model requires changes in the master schedule and how facilities are used, which can seem like big hurdles, but I’d argue that the benefits for teachers and students are well worth experimenting with this model.