A little over a year ago, some teachers started discussing the idea of “team teaching”, and while the idea of groups of teachers working with the same students wasn’t a new model, the way in which we wanted to implement that practice was new. We wanted to not just share students, but to share the classroom space, the lessons, the standards of learning, and the daily schedule. We wanted not to just integrate the similar skills of the students into our lessons, but to instead, integrate ourselves into each other’s curriculums, daily lessons, and lives.
This year, three subject areas of science, social studies, and English are piloting a team teaching program in Arrupe. This breaks down to forty students, two classrooms, three teachers, and two hours and fifteen minutes of class time. Student schedules show that they have these blocks of classes either all together in the morning, or all after their lunch and Flex period. The beauty of that planning was created so teachers could use the time as needed in their teams. For example on some days, students in my team might have a day that includes an hour of social studies, so they can present a project, and then the remaining time would be split between science and English. Other days, we split the forty students into three small groups, and they rotate into the three subjects with free time at the end for everyone to read. The time spent in each class fluctuates daily, as does their grouping.
The freedom of scheduling our three subjects allows us to coordinate lessons together. Mr. Chapman and I recently taught a writing assignment that asked students to write two clear paragraphs explaining the process of evaporation and condensation. I taught the importance of topic sentences and providing evidence in their writing, while Mr. Chapman’s helped the class brainstorm the science terminology that should appear throughout the paragraph. The ability to be flexible with our schedule has allowed us to combine and extend our teaching time to better the students and to better our teaching.
Since implementing this program and schedule change in September, I’ve seen many positives for students. There is always a teacher around to ask for help who has some knowledge of what is happening in their class, the importance of clarity in writing is stressed in all subject areas, so students make that connection themselves more readily, common terms and standards are used, so students know what to expect, and mostly students enjoy the flexibility of the schedule and the various ways we group them in the classroom. Students also enjoy the space in which we have set up as our team classrooms. We have only two rooms to work with, so we were very mindful of creating a positive learning environment that was accessible to the needs of each teacher. We needed to be able to flow from one subject to another, so students circle up in the “cushy chairs” or window seats to read their novels or have discussions, they use the tall science tables to complete science labs, and they sit at longer tables or groups of desks to work together on projects or watch presentations on the whiteboard. They take up every inch of space we have and inhabit it as their own!
While I believe the students are thriving because change is the only true constant in their young lives, the adults are still learning. There is a certain intimacy in this act of team teaching. We share the space, we share the students, and in doing so, we share the triumphs and failures of our lessons. It can be hard when a lesson falls short of the plan and to have that witnessed by two other adults is humbling. We do not have the luxury of pretending something went well, and there is no denying when the quizzes we just gave back were less than stellar. We see everything that happens in each other’s classes, but that means we also get to see when something goes well. I’ve witnessed students singing songs in science class at the top of their lungs, presenting amazing and innovative visions of cities created on Formit with their iPads, and I’ve heard them make passioned connections in A Christmas Carol to both disease prevention (science!) and Scrooge’s comments about the poor being the “surplus population” to current political views and their own ideas on a perfect city (social studies!). The connections are coming more organically and are easily recognized by the students. Proof one young man gave me a few weeks ago when responding to the idea that Mr. Chapman and Mr. Ahmed would be looking at their evidence in writing, by so eloquently shouting, “Ms. Guiney, English is creeping into all the classes now!”
There is a certain amount of trust in allowing each other to “creep” into each other’s classes. I didn’t know how much I would come to depend on my team of teachers. I didn’t know that when I drop the line, one of them is always there to pick it right back up again. I didn’t know I would need this or want this, but I do. I didn’t know that I would be emailing or texting them nightly to talk about tomorrow’s schedule. I didn’t know that the students would pick up on the differences in our teaching styles, but more importantly, I didn’t know that they would notice we are friends.
As our team continues to change and improve throughout the year, it’s my hope that the boys will witness our efforts to be flexible, to be connected, to be humble, and to be caring with each other. If we can teach those attributes, then our team will have succeeded in all the ways that truly matter.