Thursday, September 26, 2019

Co-Teaching--Making it Work

There's a lot of talk about what a successful co-teaching partnership entails. A few things are indisputable. One is that if it's genuine co-teaching, there should be genuine common prep time. Any administrator who assigns three or four co-teachers to one human cannot reasonably expect cooperation, let alone anything so productive it resembles success.

My experience suggests the primary selection method entails either A. eenie-meenie-miney-mo or B. These two teachers have the same free period, so they're a team. To my mind, neither is ideal, and both are borne of fundamental laziness on the part of the administrator. When they fail, the first response is generally some list of possible co-teaching methods. This one leads, and that one works with individual students. They take turns. This one leads the big group, while that one facilitates small groups. Whatever.

The thing is, if there's no common prep time, it's absurd to think this pair will not only plan together, but also decide an arrangement for which person will do what. In fact, in these instances, it's likely one teacher will do all the planning and execution while the other takes no part whatsoever. In fact, that's probably the best plan.

Last year, I was placed in a class with a teacher who taught it two periods in a row. I was only there for the first session. It was clear to me that the teacher needed to teach both classes, and needed to cover the same material. The best thing I could do for him was stay out of his way and let him do his thing. I was there, ostensibly, to help a couple of ELLs, but I helped anyone who asked. What was I supposed to do--say screw you, you aren't on my case load? We got along well, and I the teacher seems to have appreciated that I understood his situation.

Getting along well is the key, I think. I was in another co-teaching situation in which a teacher and I shared four periods. In that case, we truly cooperated. I'm good at writing things and creating presentations, so I did a lot of that. My co-teacher was good at making everything Danielson-friendly and conducting group activities. We each had a sense of who should lead what, and generally didn't have to talk about it at all. It was kind of intuitive for us.

Also, she spoke Chinese and I spoke Spanish. Between us, we were able to conduct extensive home contact and didn't have to go outside our small circle for help. Even now, while we're no longer partners, we support one another by calling for each other.

We were paired because, after years of mediating between poorly chosen teams, I told my boss that I never ever wanted to co-teach with anyone. She has this perverse propensity of needing to prove me wrong when I make blanket statements like that, so she paired me with someone I'd told her I found smart and funny. It turned out I continued to see her that way as we worked together. (Naturally, they broke us up at the end of the year.)

I'd argue that if you're inclined to get along, you don't need charts and handouts explaining models of how to work together. I'd further argue that if you aren't inclined to get along, you can have stacks of books on methodology, you can read and memorize all of them, and no matter what you do you'll be doomed. Training has limitations. I've been in bad pairings too, and it's painful every moment. I don't have what you call a poker face and if I'm not happy every kid in the room knows it, even if I don't say a single word.

The simple fact, if you ask me, is that admin needs to look for partners that are compatible. They need to ask questions such as, "Who do you like?" Not only that, but when people respond, they need a better answer than, "Well screw you, I'm putting you with Miss Grundy anyway because she's free that period."

Of course, I'm a dreamer.
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