Adventures in Team Teaching

This is a cross post from my personal blog. Recently, at a PD session, I ran into a former colleague with whom I used to team teach. Since we have not worked together in a decade or more, it was fun to reminisce and remember some of the memorable (not to mention funny) times that we had. We both taught Applied Mathematics (gr. 12) and our teaching styles were pretty similar. One year, we asked the AP that created the school schedule if our two sections of the math course could be scheduled at the same time, in the same room. The schedule worked out and, between the two of us, we had 70 students in one room. We team taught the course for the next few years after that. We have since left that school and now we both work as AP’s at different sites. As we were chatting, another AP overheard what we were talking about and came over to take part in our discussion. He said that he has two teachers working at his school who are planning to team teach and he was wondering if we could share any words of wisdom. We thought about it…we had to think hard because our team teaching was never forced or awkward. It evolved from having a great relationship with each other, and a similar view of teaching and the teacher’s role in the learning process. We were a really good team because we each brought different skill sets to the classroom. Al was the tech guru and I was more of an X’s and Y’s guy. He could show a solution on a graphing calculator or other technology while I showed the same solution algebraically. Students were able to connect with this approach. We got so good at working together that we were actually able to finish each other’s sentences.
As I think more about my experience with team teaching, there are a few more things that made us a successful team.
Sense of humour – We had a ton of fun! We joked around with each other and with the kids. We really played off each other and the students had a great time. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all fun and games. The learning was done through activities which were fun and we were always able to connect a funny story to what the students were learning. There was definitely a time to laugh and a time to learn.
Trust – We trusted each other as colleagues, and as friends. We knew that we had each other’s back and we would always stand as a united front. Our students never tried to play one of us off against the other. I never felt like I needed to compete with my teaching partner. We would help each other out. For example, if one of us was explaining something, the other one was walking around the room, checking for student understanding or giving one on one help.
Willingness to work hard – I think this was the key to our success. We worked hard for our students, planning lessons and building learning activities. We tutored our students outside of class and communicated often with parents. We had a one day turn around policy. When students wrote an assessment, it was graded and returned the next day. We believe that our students worked hard because they saw us working hard.
Communication – Obviously, we communicated with each other extremely well. We also communicated with our students and had them set goals and keep a portfolio of their learning. At the end of each unit, each student returned the summative assessment (signed by their parents) with a reflection sheet. This information was added to their portfolio along with any other pieces of learning evidence (quizzes, projects, etc.). If a student missed an exam, we had the student contact their parents the next time we saw the student in class. We only had to do that a few times before we had 100% attendance on exam days.
High expectations – We expected a lot from ourselves and we expected a lot from our students. We expected our students to come to class daily and take an active role in their own learning. We expected our students to set goals and strive to achieve those goals. We expected students to make corrections on exams and quizzes and to attend tutorials if they did not understand something.
Wow…when I think back, team teaching was a ton of work…but well worth it! When both teachers are active, a truly positive learning experience can result. I have heard of teachers entering into a team teaching situation where only one teacher is in the room at one time and the other teacher goes for coffee. This is not the way to team teach. Team teaching is truly that…teaching as a TEAM.
As a result of our team teaching experience, we would encourage any teachers to try it. Before you do though, make sure you have the right partner…very important.
It is always rewarding to bump into former students who we taught as a team. They remember the goofy stuff that happened and many of them say the phrase that I love to hear…”You made Math fun!”