By Guest Blogger Jennifer Lundstrom Hernandez
Recently, I had the privilege of sitting on a panel of co-teachers (EL and content) to answer questions from an undergraduate class of future secondary content teachers on the topic of co-teaching. My Earth Science co-teacher and I were one co-teaching pair, and we were joined by a pair of Super Co-teachers from St. Paul. These co-teachers inspired awe. They had been co-teaching for ten years and worked so seamlessly together that they could finish one another’s sentences. On a previous occasion, I had seen this co-teaching pair model a lesson at a professional development event for math teachers. They delivered an energetic, authentic, interactive class on calculating unit rate that was chock-full of opportunities for students to develop both academic language and math content skills. These teachers are the real deal. And they intimidated the heck out of me.
I am not easily intimidated. I’ve been teaching for 20 years, and I’m the one who can’t seem to keep her mouth shut at staff meetings (even when she probably should). Also, I work in a middle school. (Enough said, right?) I know it’s a terrible, human thing to do — but while I was sitting on that panel listening to this co-teaching pair talk about their practice, the little voices in the back of my brain were saying: “Well, if you and your co-teaching partner — (OK, partners — I have 3 — which complicates that whole ‘co-teaching as marriage analogy’) –were in constant communication like these two are, you might have Super, Amazing co-taught lessons every day, too.”
Or not. Which brings me to my main point — the one that I couldn’t articulate until a day or so after the panel discussion — because I don’t know about you, but my best ideas come in the shower or driving in my car, not sitting at a table passing around a microphone in front of a room full of undergrads. While being filmed. My point being that I am not a Super Co-teacher. But I am a Good-Enough-Co-teacher. And being a Good-Enough-Co-teacher helps English Learners (and every other kid in the class). A lot. That’s the message that undergraduates and every other teacher — both EL and content — need to hear.
Yes, open communication and common planning time are absolutely essential for effective co-teaching. That should be non-negotiable. But stating that you spend more time in communication with your co-teacher than with your family members? No, thanks. In my opinion, there’s a lot to be said for giving the whole co-teaching thing time to develop. Incremental changes over time.
In my opinion, there’s a lot to be said for giving the whole co-teaching thing time to develop. Incremental changes over time.
The first year, there were some very rough spots. My co-teachers and I needed to get used to one another and build trust. I needed to learn the content, and my co-teachers needed to build their repertoires of strategies for developing academic language. Are we Super co-teachers now? Some days, I think we are. Other days, we’re not there yet. And that’s okay. Because we know that tomorrow is another day, and we’re committed to moving our practice forward.
I never want to walk away from a conversation about co-teaching in which prospective future co-teachers — whether they are undergrads or teaching veterans — think: “That co-teaching sounds like way too much work!” I’ve always felt like a big part of my job as a teacher and advocate for English Learners is marketing. I will never pretend that co-teaching is all smooth sailing. Teachers are bossy, in general, and it can be tricky to have two captains on board. But if you’re truly committed to providing the best opportunity for English Learners (and every other student lucky enough to be randomly placed in a co-taught class) to thrive and grow in both content knowledge and academic language, I cannot recommend the practice enough. You don’t have to be a Super Teacher to co-teach.
You don’t have to be a Super Teacher to co-teach.
You can be a Good-Enough-Co-teacher with a willingness to stretch your practice and know that over time, with dedication and flexibility and positive energy and luck, you and your students will create many moments of awesomeness.
Bio: Jennifer Hernandez has been a teacher of English learners for more than 20 years. She teaches stand-alone English classes and co-teaches math and science at Plymouth Middle School in the Robbinsdale District (MN), where she has worked for the past 16 years. Jennifer has also taught in Japan, Mexico and El Paso, TX. In addition to teaching, Jennifer keeps busy wrangling her three school-aged sons and writing poetry.