If you’ve ever shared a class or a classroom with another teacher, you might have called yourselves co-teachers or team teachers. What’s the difference between co-teaching and team teaching? We’ve discovered that most people use these terms interchangeably, but we’re going to challenge you to think about it in a different way. Do you like sharing a classroom with another teacher?
Sometimes team teachers are thrown together whether they planned it or not. Here are some ways to make the most of your team teaching situation.
What is Team Teaching?
Team teaching means two teachers work together to teach a group of students, but there are two or more groups of students and the teachers are responsible for each of their own groups or subject areas.
Team teaching is common in elementary schools where teachers teach the same students but not the same subject areas. One teacher might teach Language Arts and Math while another teaches Science and Social Studies.
Team teachers are usually teaching independently without the other teacher in the room. They often have their own classrooms, but for some subjects, the teachers might switch rooms leaving students in their own space.
This is common for classes where one of the teachers teaches another subject (like French) to several other classes) or where a teacher is working part-time. If you think about French, music or other specialized subject areas, most teachers don’t consider this team teaching, even though by definition it is. It usually applies to two or more teachers sharing a class or homeroom.
Student teaching is a form of team teaching. You can learn more about being a team teacher with your student teacher in our post 7 Ways to Be a Great Mentor Teacher.
What is Co-Teaching?
Co-teaching means teaching the same subjects with the same students along with another teacher. The teacher may or may not be in the classroom at the same time as the other teacher is teaching or they may switch back and forth. The teaching overlaps in several subject areas. The teachers need to be interchangeable in the eyes of the students and their families.
Co-teachers are responsible for the whole group of students all the time (with the exception of any subjects that other teachers teach the group like music or French). Co-teachers write all report cards and assessments together. They attend parent conferences and meetings together. Think of co-teachers as one teacher in two bodies.
It is really rare to have opportunities to co-teach. First, a principal needs to believe that having two teachers in one room at the same time is beneficial to the students and to the school budget.
This is more common in settings where students have special needs and more adults are needed in a room either due to the needs or the number of students. Think of two teachers being in charge of a classroom at the same time (and yes, that’s a thing).
Ready to Be A Great Team Teacher?
Don’t Be a Bad Guest or Host
If you are going into someone else’s classroom, remember this is their personal space. Don’t leave your garbage or dirty coffee cups on their desk. Don’t leave your lunch mess for them to clean up when they arrive. As someone who has had several team teachers over the years, my biggest pet peeve was having to clean up someone else’s dirty dishes from my desk before I could start my day. This was really bad in a school where we have chronic mouse problems. The Friday afternoon teacher would leave the mess for me Monday morning.
Welcome the Other Teacher
I have been on both sides of the team teacher situation. I’ve had several different team teachers over the years. My first experience was extremely uncomfortable because I was basically told I couldn’t touch anything or leave anything behind. In fact, they didn’t even leave whiteboard markers for me to use. They worried I would lose or break them (insert eye-rolling). It was horrendous. One time I left a pile of student artwork to dry over the weekend. I left a note saying I would be back Monday morning at 7:30 (a whole hour before school started) to retrieve them. When I showed up at 7:30 they yelled at me for “leaving a mess.” I asked to be switched out of that classroom at the end of the school year.
On the other hand, the next year, I worked with an amazing team teacher. She asked me what I was interested in. Then she worked with me to coordinate my subject areas into hers so the students could connect the lessons. I was invited to parent meetings and she gave me a cupboard to store supplies. It was so nice to not have to drag everything around the school each lunch hour. She introduced me to the class as a teacher (not a sub or filling in). We stood there as a united front. Even though we taught completely different subjects and never taught at the same time together, our classroom felt like a cohesive place.
Find a place your team teacher can call their own. It can be a shelf, cupboard, drawer, or even their own desk if there is room. Respect that space by staying out of it and not leaving your belongings in it. Keep students out of that space as well so that it remains “secure” when the other teacher is not there.
Develop a United Front
Make sure your students know that you and your team teacher talk about them regularly. This prevents any student from playing you off each other. Don’t fall for the “but Mr. So and so said…” At the very least, tell students you’ll talk to the other teacher and then get back to them.
This applies to parents and guardians too. When possible, meet with parents or guardians together so there is no chance for miscommunication from one teacher to the other. When emails are sent, be sure to blind carbon copy (BCC) the other teacher to keep everyone in the loop.
We use these Home/School Communication notes with our students. They stay in a binder behind our desk so we can always see when the last teacher called home. You can find them in our Resource Library or we can send them to you for free when you become a member of our email list.
Create a Communication Channel
Whether it’s by text message, sticky note or an email at the end of each day, make sure you are communicating with the other teacher.
A lack of communication can be hurtful. At one point I worked part-time where I went to school to teach one specific homeroom while that teacher taught another subject. When I showed up to school that day I discovered that my class along with all the rest of the upper elementary grades were on a field trip for the day. No one told me about the trip. It wasn’t on the school calendar, class newsletter or in any email (trust me, I checked). I left that school at the end of the year. It was just one example of how little I was valued.
How did this happen? I had been away the previous Wednesday and didn’t work Thursdays or Fridays. A local university (walking distance) offered a last minute activity for Monday when another school cancelled. The email was sent to all the upper elementary teachers, except me, in a group chat started by administration. No one noticed I wasn’t on the email.
Choose a method and then stick to it. If it’s not working, talk to your team teacher and figure out something else. For daily issues, find a way to communicate day-to-day issues about students or situations. Nothing is worse than having an irate parent show up to discuss an issue you know nothing about because you’ve been left out of the loop.
Keep in mind that written forms of communication could potentially be part of a Freedom of Information request. Be sure any written notes are professional.
Do Things Together
This can be tricky if you and your team teachers work at different times of the day or on different days. At some point (at least once per term) sit down together to discuss what you’ll each be teaching over the term. Where can you find connections? In what ways can you support each other? What events for the class can both of you attend?
Are there times (like assemblies or school-wide events) where you can be with your class together? Make sure your administration understands how important this is to your classroom community.
At the beginning of the year, we did these Learner Profiles and Surveys with our students together and then shared the results. It was helpful to get to know the kids.
At the end of the year, we challenged students to see how well they knew us. We used this How Well Do You Know Your Teacher? game. It can be found in our Resource Library or we can send it to you for free when you join our email list.
What to Do When Your Students Don’t Behave for the Other Teacher
If the other teacher has not asked you to help, it’s best not to say anything to the students. Continue with your own expectations for how you do things when you are with the class.
Talk to the teacher about how they handle situations. Routines and consistency are beneficial to everyone. This doesn’t mean you have to do everything the exact same way, but some general rules are good. For example, if the homeroom teacher doesn’t allow students to use the books on the shelf behind their desk, don’t have a free for all and allow that. If you aren’t sure, just ask the teacher and let students know it’s a no until you know what the rule is.
It’s not your job to police how another teacher teaches your students, even if you don’t agree. If they have zero classroom management or don’t seem to be getting through the curriculum, it is not for you to judge. If you offer help and it’s denied, then all you can do is let them learn.
On the other hand, if the behaviour is so out of hand that it’s impacting your learning time with students, then it might be time to take the discussion to administration. Make sure you follow all the ethical obligations of your professional organization or union before contacting the administration to report anything.
Don’t Be a Team Teacher
If you are not good at sharing, then team teaching might not be right for you. No one wants to come into a hostile environment. Remember that a team teacher might have no say over their teaching position so punishing them for being in your space is not going to help. Likewise, going into someone’s space and making their life miserable because you cause chaos isn’t going to last long either.
There is enough animosity in the world directed at teachers that we really don’t need to be out there creating more drama for each other. Just be a good person and your team teaching experience will go wonderfully.
What is Your Team Teaching Story?
Do you have a team-teaching story (good or bad) that you want to share with us? Tell us in the comments below.