Chris MaresWorking With a Colleague Who is a Friend

by Chris Mares.


For some reason the phrase “team teaching” has always had a positive connotation for me. I’m a people person and a team player so it’s understandable. I love teams and I love teaching. But what is team teaching and how should we set about it in a principled and positive manner? In this post I will describe one of my experiences.

A number of years back, a colleague of mine, Laura, and I were sharing the same class during a four-week summer session. Laura taught in the morning and I taught in the afternoon. It was a small class of around ten students who ranged between low and high intermediate.

Of course, we could have taught in a parallel fashion, simply focusing on the skill sets our classes were designed to focus on (listening and speaking for Laura and reading and writing for me). I’m sure it would have been fine and the students would have been satisfied, but Laura and I decided we would do something different.

As most of the students were only in Maine for the four weeks of the program, we wanted them to benefit as much as possible from our teaching.

We arranged to meet every day, both before class and at lunch-time, to go over what we planned to do and to discuss the students in terms of how they were doing and what was going on in class.

Very quickly it became apparent that there was a lot we could do in terms of recycling vocabulary, key phrases, and grammar points. We could also share details about what students had said, what they had done, and how they were feeling.

Pretty quickly the students realized that Laura and I were talking to each other about what went on in the class. This impressed the students because they realized that we cared and that we wanted them to do as well as possible. This motivated the students and they became even more motivated than they already were.

Here’s what we learned.

  • Team teaching is effective provided it is principled and organized.
  • Commenting on what students did or said in the other class is motivating for students. It shows you care and that you take the time to plan your lessons to be as effective as possible.
  • Knowing what your co-teacher is doing in class in terms of target language makes it easy for you to recycle.
  • Having two teachers observe students is useful as one teacher won’t always catch everything that the students say or do.
  • If you have a mixed class in terms of gender, it is good to have co-ed teaching team. Sometimes female students are more comfortable with a female teacher and visa-versa.
  • In order to communicate efficiently note down everything you do in class immediately after class, especially words, phrases, or structure you would like your co-teacher to recycle.
  • Always meet your co-teacher at the same time and in the same time. Make the meeting a practice.
  • Meet every day.

We had a great four weeks. The students’ pleasure in the fact that their teachers were working together was palpable and they made great progress in the brief amount of time they had together as a group.

At one point, one of the students asked me if Laura and I were married. I knew what she meant. She detected a level of communication that was far deeper than simply chatting about class. It was an intimate pedagogical relationship.

There is, of course, a flip side to this. I have team-taught in other contexts and it hasn’t gone so well for a variety of reasons, most of which are obvious – the lack of chemistry between co-teachers, unwillingness to share, a desire to “own” the class rather than share it.

At the end of our four-week program Laura and I agreed it had gone so well for several reasons: one, we were on the same page in terms of our approach to teaching. Two, we both enjoyed the class and recycling each other’s material. Three, we both had energy and presence, though clearly we were our own woman and man. And finally, we enjoyed the change and believed in it.

Finally, if you are new to teaching and haven’t team-taught, give it a shot. You have nothing to lose and I am sure you will learn a lot. It is also a way to get close to another teacher’s approach without physically observing them teach.


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Chris Mares

Chris Mares is a teacher, teacher trainer, and materials writer. He is director of the Intensive English Institute at the University of Maine, and has coauthored several popular ELT course books.

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