2015 is my fourth year as a proper, qualified teacher and it’s been one heck of a journey. Compounding this is the fact that I was lucky enough to be a foundation staff member at a brand new school, so right from the very start I was born and raised in a fundamentally open and collaborative environment. I’ve never taught in a single-cell classroom. I’ve never not had visitors walk through constantly. I’ve never not had massive collaborative meetings. I’ve never not had other teachers swirling and bubbling and teaching around me, day in and day out.
We team teach at our place. To explain this a bit more, we have large, open plan teaching and learning spaces. Our “hub” (combined learning space) is ratio’d for 100 students and four teachers. As a four person teaching team we work very closely to squeeze every last benefit out of the fact we team teach – increased flexibility, efficiencies in planning, sociability, role modelling effective (mostly!) relationships, a wider range of personalities and skills students can latch on to, diversity of opinion and ideas, teachers “on roam” supervising self-directed learning while some are in workshops… the list goes on.
As a beginning teacher, team teaching was a phenomenally supportive, safe entry into the world of education. From Day One, I was surrounded by experienced, amazing teachers and because of the open plan learning environment, I was able to observe them working their magic seamlessly and naturally. I learned by osmosis. I learned alongside, much like a apprenticeship.
So I was in a constant state of observing other teachers but also being observed myself. This enabled me to get feedback on every aspect of my teaching – sometimes formally but mostly in the chats and questions and comments which happen all the time when team teaching. I was able to get comments on my planning, able to discuss students at a fine grained detail, able to be supported in tricky meetings. We even found that the traditional PRT mentor role was not really needed – it all just happened as a natural part of the team.
Any downsides? Perhaps. I guess when you are in your own classroom you need to do all the jobs a teacher normally does. In a team teaching environment, it’s easy to share out jobs. What I mean by this is that in some cases, I was “late to the party” learning how to do certain types of assessment, or the planning of events, or the coordination of groups. I’ve never had to deal with a reliever because we just cover ourselves. We’re getting better at this though – about making sure BTs get the same amount of responsibility and chance at a range of jobs. It just takes an awareness of this aspect of team teaching and you can sort it out.
So I can honestly say team teaching as a beginning teacher was a fabulous, rich experience. It nullified a lot of the pain points of just starting in your own single cell classroom and amplified many of the positive benefits of an apprenticeship-type model of learning.
For any schools thinking about embarking on a team teaching adventure – hire a BT! It’s the best start they could possibly get.
***A big shoutout to Urs, Tara TJ, Lisa, Andrea, Ang, Amaria, Demelza, Mike and all the other amazing teachers I’ve had the benefit of learning from. You guys rock!