Saturday, September 10, 2016

Working Together: Team Teaching

In my teaching career, I have been blessed to work with many amazing colleagues who have become great friends!  This has never been more true than this year, as I am team-teaching 5th grade beginner classes with four different people (at three different schools).  I have never had help at more than one school before, so it still feels like a huge luxury to have another adult in the room (especially with 37-52 students per class)!  At the same time, it's been a challenge trying to find our rhythm of planning, sharing the load, and how we support each other in class.  Some random observations and thoughts so far:
  • Different is okay.  I have different relationships with each of these teachers, and each of them have different backgrounds and experiences to bring to the table.  One loves logistics.  One has never taught (or played) a string instrument before.  One is a retired music teacher with years of experience.  I have team-taught with one in the past.  All of these attributes factor into how we work with each other!
  • Communication is essential.  I mean, I knew this beforehand, and I'm re-learning it all over again.  We have zero plan time together, so everything is done via email, text, or the few minutes before/after class.  That's a lot of details to work out!  If anyone has a good system for this, I would love to hear about it - I have thought about a shared Google Doc or something, but I don't have a clear vision for what this might look like.  I'm also worried about it taking a lot of time to update.
  • Giving up control is hard.  Okay, okay, maybe that makes me sound like a control freak, but in all honesty, I've been at these schools for a number of years, and I am used to being the only teacher in the classroom.  Most of these kids feed to my middle school, so I want to train them in my system.  And, as many music teachers can attest to, recruitment & retention are directly linked to my job security.  If I lose kids, I lose classes, and I lose FTE.  That's just the way it goes (I wish it wasn't this way, but that's a conversation for another day).  As I am just getting to know these other teachers, I have to take a deep breath and let them inject their input into the class, too!  I've also tried to be very upfront, open, and honest that my natural inclination is going to be to run the show the way I have done it for several years, but I truly do want their feedback and want them to call me on it when I am overstepping my bounds!  I can already tell that this is going to be a great learning point for me this year.
While we've had our challenges, I felt so thankful and blessed on Thursday when I had about 50 instruments that needed to be finger-taped (a job that is slow, tedious, and time-consuming for all of you non-music teachers out there)!  Usually, this would take me 3-4 hours to complete, and it usually can only be done during the time I am "teaching", due to my travel schedule.  On this day, though, I had my student assistant help me with some of them.  Then, a local private teacher came in (unexpected) and offered to help tape some of them while I was teaching.  Later, one of my team teachers came early, and we taped some more.  One of the 5th grade teachers at this school, who does not play a string instrument, helped with getting the tapes cut and put onto the instruments during her planning period.  And, in the end, we got all but three done before the kids arrived!  It was such a relief to be able to TEACH, and not hope the kids don't kill each other give them busywork while I worked on preparing their instruments.  Many hands do indeed make light work.

Have any of you been in a team teaching situation before?  
What are your best tips for success?  I want to make the most of this year!

A finished, finger-taped cello - cut the tape out, slide it up through the strings,
pluck & listen to find the exact right place to put it, and then push it down so it will stay!


  1. NO I've never really co-taught. Like totally balanced out ying/yang style--really just "You do that" "i do this". Would love to hear how it works for you. Clearly you have an excellent attitude!

  2. Useful signposts you've labeled here, Aubrey. Your post reminded me of this one (or one like it) I've seen before about broad-strokes styles for how adults might share a classroom:

    1. Thanks for the link, Brian! I suspect we will figure things out a little more as time goes on...but this is a good place to start!