Team teaching can be a powerful way to develop a curriculum that places student learning at the center of attention. When team teaching is grounded in principles of cooperation, social justice and innovation, it can produce teaching that is vibrant and results in an organic classroom practice that matures as the student/teacher community grows in the shared knowledge that is encouraged in that environment.
I have had the opportunity to work in three places that truly valued team teaching (at least for a short time) and I have written on this blog about two previous team teaching experiences. The first experience happened in Minnesota with a group of special educators and was titled “Team Teaching – Part 1”. The second experience took place in an urban middle/high school in Philadelphia and was titled “Team Teaching – the story of a third quilt”. I hope that you will read those entries if you have not already done so.
This 3rd example happened at the beginning of a start up for a charter school. At the time I was in a state of turmoil at the public school where I was teaching. Our teaching team (that I wrote about in the previously noted blog entry) was being broken up and half of us were being transferred to new schools. I was uncertain about what I wanted to do and then I learned that a new charter was opening up. I was drawn to the possibilities that were available – a chance to directly participate in shaping curriculum, with a staff that was just being introduced to each other. There were only six teachers and a small administrative staff and that promised close, collegial working relationships. I was intrigued and decided join this effort. Around the same time Albert Shankar (president of the American Federation of Teachers) was still proclaiming the possibilities of charter schools. Shankar referred to the original charter school vision in which teams of teachers had considerable say in how schools should be run and in which teachers made critical decisions about what and how to teach. This was the case in the charter school to which I was committing my energies.
For the first few years that is what happened. The teachers and the small staff would meet almost daily around a conference table at the end of the day and we would review what worked, what didn’t and what could be changed. Admittedly it was exhausting but it was invigorating at the same time. The students and what they were learning was front and center in everyone’s mind and what was best for students consistently drove the work and the decision making.
It seemed that I had found what I was looking for – a school that respected teacher knowledge and was willing to use that knowledge in finding ways to educate urban students and unleash the potential of those students. Sadly that was not to last – the school abandoned team teaching and the benefits of teachers sharing knowledge and practice. It slowly became apparent that the administration became enamored of teaching by rote method – having all teachers teach to the rhythms of a singular approach. The value of learning from other teachers to improve practice was discarded in favor of all teachers using that singular method. The view that each classroom community is unique was not adopted and I had the first notion of this when I heard the word ‘replicate’ used at one of the conference table meetings of the faculty. You cannot replicate something that is unique – and if you believe as I believe that each classroom community forms its own identity and functions as a special place of teaching and learning, then it is not possible to ‘replicate’ that. I wrote about this dynamic in another blog entry titled “Why I retired from teaching”.
Team teaching is a proven way to improve classroom learning and instruction. When teaching strengths are combined then teaching weaknesses can be remedied. Team teaching requires that theory and practice be joined, that fundamental fairness and social equity be an integral part of the curriculum, and that democratic participation by both students and teachers become a vital part of education. This is the way forward for rejuvenating public education.