In my experience teaching English Language Learners, I have been in the traditional setting of teaching as the lone wolf in a class of thirty and also on the flipside of co-teaching with my fellow teachers, or even mentoring new teachers in the classroom. While there are pros and cons to both sides, I find that the benefits of working in community with other teachers outweigh the drawbacks.
When I first started off co-teaching and mentoring in the classroom, I have to admit, it was an adjustment. The thought of someone challenging my ideas and ways of teaching, felt insulting and threatening. Many of us come from schools where jobs and programs are threatened every day so we have this mentality of holding on for dear life to our job whatever the cost. We may be cautious of allowing a fellow teacher to critique our work or to benefit from our work because we worry that it will jeopardize our job.
Teaching in community can also mean mentoring student teachers or assistant teachers. But when you have a workload that feels twice the size of years before and a class number that is doubled in size as well, the idea of taking on extra work in the form of mentoring can feel overwhelming. I have heard countless university students talk about walking into their student teaching position, seeing the lead teacher once, and then never seeing that teacher again the rest of the semester. We often feel like we don’t have the time or energy to devote to this new teacher, or even that we can’t properly teach the next generation of teachers.
So what good can come out of teaching in community? A lot! As one person in a large class of students, I know I have no possible way of giving each student the one-on-one attention they need. Having that second educator can double the opportunity and time for one-on-one attention in a class of thirty or even six. After class, my fellow teachers and/or assistants reflect with me on the lesson and the progress of students. We also talk about our own growth or challenges in the class as educators. It is always eye-opening to hear new perspectives of what people have observed and what they see as growth. I hear stories of students and what they did in class that I never would have heard or been able to witness because I was at another table helping a different group. I hear observations of my own teaching and how it is perceived. I find this truly keeps me accountable.
Of course, we set ground rules at the very beginning of our time co-teaching: be respectful, always be edifying, and always share a positive and a growth with the team, rather than a harsh critique. I can walk away with real tangible ideas for how I could have done things better. I also hear a lot of positive feedback, which let’s face it, many teachers rarely receive. Passion for people, improvisation, and fun in the classroom are things that can be difficult to teach but easily learned through observation. I often hear my team sharing on those areas as where they have really gained skills in their teaching.
There are many of us who do not have the opportunity to co-teach, or even to have a student teacher in the classroom. Even without these opportunities, we can look for ways to intentionally meet with our peers and share ideas. Our days are busy, but finding time to meet, even with one of your peers to share how the week went, talk about activities that worked or issues with students, and bounce around ideas for the upcoming week, can be so refreshing and restorative to all parties involved. We hear so often about teacher burnout these days, but our teacher communities can help prevent it. Let’s find time to reenergize in community so that we can be healthy not only for our students, but for ourselves as well.