In the Classroom Professional Learning
Teaching as a Team
January 1, 2018
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Ashley Corey

In teaching there are days when we feel incredibly confident in the work that we are doing and days when we simply do not. No matter the issue, nine out of ten times the solution is to seek help from my colleagues. Having endless tasks in the classroom can sometimes prevent us from reaching out to each other even on an informal basis. I had not been so keenly aware of this necessity until I recently began teaching on a model that reflected the need for constant collaboration. Two words have changed my entire perspective on collaboration among teachers: team teaching.

Team teaching is exactly as it sounds. There are two teachers for fifty to sixty students in a regular class period. My current school has around a dozen different classes that are taught using this method. Social Studies and English classes are melded together to make Combined Studies, Government classes are team taught for every student, and even Math acceleration programs are being team taught. There are undoubtedly multiple ways to implement such a model, with Arts programs and SPED inclusion classes paving the way for quite some time now, and I have found it fascinating to see this model implemented on such a wide scale at the high school level. I have pulled on my own experience thus far and reached out to the other team teachers to get their insight on why this model is incredibly effective.  

Five common themes arise among the positive aspects highlighted by each of us:

  1. Varying Perspectives – The most compelling reason to adopt team teaching is certainly the benefit it provides to the students. With two experts in the room, students are given varying perspectives on almost every subject presented to them. Math in particular benefits from this built-in perk since there is typically more than one way to solve or attack a problem. Discussion and debate-based lessons benefit greatly from this model as well. In addition, students get to see a healthy model for disagreement and discussion. Any two adults will have different perspectives on any number of issues. Giving a model to students for healthy dialogue is incredibly important in our time, and team teaching has this model built into it.
  2. Constant Collaboration – When two teachers set out to teach a course together, there must be common goals set out in advance. Giving team teachers a common plan time is important to the success of the program, since teachers need to be on the same page beforehand. Teachers who do not have common plan oftentimes will meet before or after school, eat lunch together, or find collaborative pockets where they best see fit, but the real collaboration takes place during the lesson. Teachers bounce discussion off of each other in real time. If a lesson is ever losing momentum or needing extra support, that collaboration is key. Many schools have adopted some type of regular use of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), but few allow for the minute by minute collaboration that in necessary to make team teaching successful. This model truly allows for constant reflection and refinement from each other.
  3. Connecting With Students – Team teaching provides additional opportunities to connect with students. Though we try our best to give understanding and attention to every student in our classroom, students oftentimes have a stronger connection with only a few of their teachers. Team teaching allows for the potential connections to double. Should personalities or style of explanations clash, students do not have to lose out of learning; they can simply reach out to the other teacher. This is particularly useful for students that need more attention than others. This type of tag team approach to helping and reaching students is fantastic during work time, when specific students can be targeted or even reach out themselves.
  4. New Teacher Support  – One of the biggest struggles that I faced as a new teacher was knowing where to turn for the little things. Is my password the same for all these accounts? How do I take attendance? Where is the mandatory meeting today?! These little things seem small in retrospect, but they add up to a lot of anxiety and stress for someone new to teaching or new to a building. Pairing a new teacher with a veteran teacher for a team teaching model can provide mountains of invaluable support. Having a mentor constantly there to answer logistical questions or provide support for planning is a huge perk. With teacher burnout and retention being majors issues at all levels of education now, it would be wise to take a second look at the model as an invaluable option for new teacher support.
  5. Flexibility – Problems arise constantly both in and out of the classroom. This is news to no one in education. Technological issues may (and do!) arise. Teachers may be called into an emergency parent or disciplinary meeting. Disciplinary issues may make it so that a teacher’s attention is briefly occupied with handling the matter. Unexpected illness can hit any of us. All of these issues have caused my own singleton class to come to a pause for a least a few minutes. However, when team teaching is properly utilized, these issues can be easily handled while the other team member leads the class. In an environment where curveballs are constant, it can set us very much at ease to know that students will still stay on track should our attention be required elsewhere.

Of course, there are obstacles that can prevent team teaching from being a success. There are oftentimes few to no facilities available for so many students at once. Teachers that are not able to put their differences aside may not work best side by side. Common plan time may not be logistically possible. These are hurdles with which we are all familiar. However, should the option be available, team teaching provides students with new perspectives and class structures that can mix up their day and give them new learning opportunities. In a world where collaboration is key, this model holds us as teachers accountable and provides the best possible lessons and connections for all students.

Ashley has taught at West High School in Knox County Tennessee for the last five years. She has worked as an Economics, U.S. History and Personal Finance teacher. She has served as Senior Class Dean for the past three years and worked on the Upper House Small Learning Community’s Leadership for that duration. She has served as Leadership Team Secretary and Professional Development presenter in Economics for Knox County for two years. She has also served as a Lead Teacher and Instructional Support Team member. She received her Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 2011 and her Master of Science in Teacher Education from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 2012. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

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