Friday, November 04, 2011

Team teaching: mid-semester thoughts

So I took very seriously all the comments that suggested that team teaching works best when the co-teachers trade off discussion-leading responsibilities or otherwise ensure that it's always clear who's in charge at a given moment. My co-teacher, apparently, got much the same advice from the people he'd consulted with.

And for our first few weeks, we did that. We conferred by phone the day before, talked stuff through on the drive to campus, and roughly divided up teaching responsibilities: sometimes one of us would lead virtually an entire class, sometimes the period would be more evenly divided, but while one of us was leading discussion the other would respectfully remain silent or speak only after raising a hand and being called on. Those classes all went well.

But then. . . we decided we just didn't care, or that we didn't have the time to do extensive pre-class prepping, or that we had compatible enough interests and teaching styles to just play it by ear

And it's been even better this way: we take 5-10 minutes to discuss a few things we'd like to do, and a possible order, and then we get in the classroom and just go, switching on and off as we feel like it, redirecting conversation, helping each other out, and inserting tangential observations as they seem useful.

A friend with much more co-teaching experience puts it like this: having a co-teacher is like having a roommate: no matter how much you may like a person, until you live with them, you have no idea if you can live with them.

It's not perfect. We tend to have slightly longer and slightly more awkward transitions than in a normal class, since before moving on we'll usually pause to make sure the other person doesn't still have something left to say; it's also harder to scrap or invent stuff on the fly.

And though our students are lively and engaged, we don't totally have a handle on how they experience our blended class, or how they feel about the fact that we'll get into conversations with each other in the middle of discussion, or correct each other, or interrupt to exclaim, "oh! that's so cool! I've always wondered about that!"

But, eh. We're having a good time. And I hope that our students see us learning from each other, and enjoying learning from each other--and that that makes up for the class's occasional awkwardnesses.


Susan said...

I team taught a grad seminar that way. I think the students were a bit overwhelmed, but we figured that they would learn something about interdisciplinary dialogue.... And that we have fun!

ntbw said...

Out of administrative curiosity, could you say something about how your university allocates credit for team teaching? I'd love to make some opportunities for team teaching available to faculty in my department, but the question of how much a team taught class "counts" seems to be a stumbling block: So, for someone teaching 2 / 2, is a team-taught class the same as a regular class? How are the inevitable cries of "that's not fair" handled if it is the same? Is a team-taught class worth half credit for each person, and therefore each person "owes" another half somewhere?

Usemeplz said...

they are brave to do such things.. The main is that they all had a good time, and all these differences will give useful experience to all of them..

Flavia said...

ntbw: you have put your finger on the issue that I haven't explicitly acknowledged in talking about this "class"--which is that it's technically two classes, which we merged (with the full knowledge and support of our chair and our dean) in order to work around our institution's complicated co-teaching policies.

We have a 3/3 load, and officially a team-taught class is only recognized as 1/2 a class. So in order to teach a course with the same number, we would each be teaching a 4th class. (If we were to teach the class repeatedly, we'd eventually get a retroactive course release.) And as you can imagine, the idea of teaching an extra class, when it's a complicated and newly-designed one, isn't exactly appealing.

So we're teaching two different 400-level classes that meet at the same time and that were scheduled for adjacent classrooms (one much bigger than the other, which is where we've wound up meeting). The courses have slightly different titles, and they do genuinely fulfill different requirements for the major: his is a senior capstone seminar, and mine is a pre-capstone seminar. But the only difference in our assignments is that the final essay for his class is longer than the one for my class.

I hope the administrative procedures get easier for team-teaching, because we're having so much fun we've already discussed the next course we want to develop & teach together.

Historiann said...

Interesting reflections. I'm doing the same thing for the first time ever--team-teaching a super-sized upper-division lecture course with a colleague. (Our class was capped at 84 instead of 42, and we're down to about 65 students now, which is a typical attrition rate for our classes.)

We never thought about collaborating all that closely after we got the syllabus written. We pretty much pick out primary sources, essay questions, and other details on the fly in those 10-15 minute across-the-hallway conversations you allude to. Since I'm an early Americanist, I did all of the lectures for 150--1820 or so, and my colleague is now lecturing for the rest of the term on the 19th and 20th centuries, and I think that worked out well. We each meet with separate sections for discussion, which is more manageable and permits us to learn most of the students' names.

I've really enjoyed the team-teaching experience, and I will definitely do it again. But my colleague and I had 10 years or so to get to know each other & become friends, so perhaps that's an important aspect to our team teaching.