Author: Kaisa Tuomarla
Working as a teacher can be a lonely job. Even though you have colleagues: you have common coffee breaks with them, plan your lessons together, have discussions or even do assessments together — nevertheless, a teacher is alone in the classroom. One class, and only one teacher. If we are lucky, we have a teammate in the classroom: for example, a school assistant, who is in the same class with us during some of the lessons. Some teachers have even full-time assistants. But the pedagogical responsibility lies always on one teacher. Have you ever heard about co-teaching?
What if there were more teachers, sharing the same pupils and the same responsibilities? Co-teaching means that two teachers teach same students in the same classroom. Usually there are two different classes, which are taught together in the same classroom. Schools develop classroom layouts to fit this kind of flexible teaching: walls are torn down and replaced with soundproof, opening flip walls. The room can be used as one big room or as two separate spaces.
Me and my colleague use “a light model of co-teaching”. We have our own classes, and number of pupils is 44 in total. During about five lessons every week the children study together, with two teachers.
The easiest way to carry out co-teaching is “the boss and the firefighter” model. We plan the lesson together, and make a deal which one of us is the boss. The boss collects all the children to a listening area. This is where the traditional teaching happens: the teacher is the boss, tells the story, teaches the topic of the day/lesson etc.
As we all know, some of the pupils have difficulties to listen, to sit still, to concentrate. The boss teaches, and his/her colleague has a role of a firefighter: he/she walks silently in the classroom, “extinguishes the fires”, sits down next to one child if it is needed, whispering the quietness to restless children. The teachers can also have a teaching dialogue and the pupils can take a part in it.
According to our experiences this is an excellent format to try co-teaching in an easy way. After the listening part of the lesson, pupils move back to their places and start filling out their notebooks and workbooks. Both teachers walk around and help everyone. The silence and peace in the classroom have been better this way than in a same kind of traditional teaching situation but only one teacher and only one class.
If we want to do something active and participatory, we need to split those 44 children in groups, just because otherwise it gets too noisy. We share them in two groups, but both of the groups have children from both classes. Or, if we can have a resource teacher or an assistant teacher to be one extra adult with us, then we make three groups. Every adult has one workshop. We have had workshops for years like this. Teachers know both classes, and students know us. They have friends in both classes, there is no “our class” and “your class”. Just us. Sometimes we have had theme weeks when we have worked more together in a same room, sharing a project.
I once had a privilege to join a session held by two pioneer co-teachers. They shared the same class, and they had only one class, even though the number of children in the class was nearly 40. They shared everything: the pedagogical responsibility, the teaching, the co-operation with parents… They worked as a team in one classroom. They described themselves as a double teacher with double classroom. The results were fantastic: double joy but half of the stress and half of the work.
When the chemistry and characters with a colleague are working well this is definitely worth trying. After having even small steps of co-teaching in your work, it is going to be difficult to go back to the old situation where you always have only one pair of hands.