Sunday, 12 May 2013

TCH: Two Teachers Per Class

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Have two teachers for one class of students. And I'm not talking about one teacher (or educational assistant) who deals with those two "difficult" students in the corner, while the other teaches, I'm talking about having two teachers. Hear me out.


I've been tweeting hours worked for the last month or so. I plan to have a roundup post on that at some point, but one thing I'm starting to realize is that the job is potentially doable in a regular 8 hour day. Assuming you don't do any marking, or extra curricular activities. (Effectively filing off the worst and best aspects of the job.) If you must do those things, well, sacrifice sleep.

Today in particular, as I marked, I wished I had a day just to do only marking. (Which is what the weekend is for. Yet I blog. Yeah, I'm stupid like that.) I also listened to the latest "Infinite Tangents" podcast, where there was mention of "laying out a class" based on overall curriculum expectations - hopefully collaboratively. Thus with help. Okay, so what if I had a FEW days to mark student work, because we'd arranged that someone ELSE was currently teaching the next unit? I'm not saying I'm hiding out, I'm still helping the classroom during the day, but when I'm not there I'm MARKING rather than PREPPING.

This means I can focus more on the problems with the last unit, even having time to make changes so it's better for next time, rather than trying to figure out what I have to be teaching tomorrow. Our next unit, the two teachers switch it up, so that it's not one person tasked with all the marking all the time. Notice I also flagged this post as "teaching" not "math", because I think it's workable in other subject areas too.

I hear your objections. But bear with me as I work through this.


Advantages to Two Teachers Per Class:
1) Teachers don't get to observe enough teaching. Boom. Fixed.
2) We emphasize group work, yet we teach in solitary. Why?
3) It's a chance to share (equitably) what always feels like an impossible workload.
4) A second set of eyes in the class can more easily pick up on problems students are having. Also allows for constructive feedback to colleagues.
5) Pretty sure this would reduce teacher burnout and increase retention rates.
6) This might even allow for better flipped classrooms, as it generates time for teachers to create flipped content. Or just any content.
7) Creates jobs, which is good for the politicians and prospective teachers out there. Alternatively, may mean the bureaucracy can increase class sizes, but as long as they're not doubling, we'd be looking at less than what we have now.

Disadvantages to Two Teachers Per Class:
1) Seems to require units. I'll deal with that below.
2) Personality conflicts. Two teachers with different styles may not mesh well, or issues may erupt if students seem to "prefer" one teacher to the other.
3) Continuity. Students may have difficulty handling a different teacher for different topics, and teachers may have difficulty picking up where someone else left off.
4) Coordination. Two teachers now have to assign one mark per student.



It doesn't require units. It might make more sense to have units, where Teacher A takes 1, 3 and 5 while Teacher B instructs 2, 4 and 6, but not necessarily. Picture a classroom where all the topics are laid out within the first two weeks. Teacher A can then do an activity on trig (perhaps even based on current events), have an evaluation of some sort at the end, and while they're correcting that, Teacher B does a few lectures about solving equations. Then Teacher A is on again, and they could do something on quadratics - or, y'know, even FOLLOW UP on their activity from two weeks ago. (Seeing it again before the final exam? Madness!)

I can't immediately see why this can't apply to other subjects too. Teacher A instructs on World War I, Teacher B on World War II. Teacher A does chemistry, Teacher B jumps in with some physics. Teacher A does the poetry unit, Teacher B gets ye olde Shakespeare. Teacher A does perspective drawing then Teacher B moves into watercolours. I suppose you could argue we may get too specialized, but is that a bad thing?

Personality conflicts is a bit harder to reconcile. This whole idea would need to be a collaborative exercise, not a competition, yet there's always people out there who have a personality type that leans to the latter, or who might take things too personally. (I may even be one of them.) Students would not help matters, tending to be judgmental, or simply wanting to see what happens when you pit two teachers against each other.

But on the other hand, there are some really good teachers in my department doing some great things with group work and... that isn't me.

I'm an introvert, who is bad at judging personalities and gathering anecdotal evidence. So I don't do a lot of it. But if I was paired with someone who WAS good at it, not only would the students benefit, I might get BETTER at it. Meanwhile, that teacher... would get to see me sing about Trigonometry. Um. So they might feel they're getting a raw deal, but they could be paired with someone else next semester. My point is, play to individual strengths and evolve as a teacher, rather than get stuck in a rut.

As far as continuity goes, most times students get different teachers from year to year anyway, so it shouldn't be all that confusing. And as to continuity with teachers - again, it's not that you vanish for a week, you're IN THE CLASS, observing what is being taught, it's just you can deal with marking and self improvement rather than all the prep work. Because of that, I can't think there would be huge disputes about mark assignment either.

Heck, in terms of implementation, this could even translate to just having a couple "floating" guys in the department. They teach collaboratively with Teacher A for one term, then Teacher B during the next term. You know, kind of like student teaching, except with pay. So this might be particularly beneficial to young teachers, as they build confidence and find their place.


The major disadvantage, of course, is that this has to be sold to the public. I say "public" not "politicians", for two reasons:
1) Despite the politician's apparent penchant for doing whatever, then selling it as "the right thing", surely there are some times they have to bend to the will of the public. Like, election years.
2) The public thinks teachers "have it easy", hahahaha, kill me now. They're the ones to convince of the benefits of such a system, and why more money would be needed for education to implement it. (Maybe if we take some of that tech money, eh? Then again, my ten year old computer says new tech would be helpful.)

Well, I'm not a salesman. Nor am I sure how I'd advocate for this. (Nor am I even positive it's a good idea.) That said, is this NOT what they do at the post-secondary level?? Hiring teaching assistants to mark papers and answer questions, so that professors can focus on research? My system improves on that, as I'm not passing the drudge work on to someone else, but making it more equitable, distributing the workload fairly between two professionals. Doesn't this make sense?

I feel like it makes sense. In the comments, someone please tell me why we're not doing this.


  1. I've had two profs teach a subject in university, so it is doable. (Well, prof and instructor, but neither were TAs.) The idea is mind blowing, really.

    Why it's not being done...
    1) No one thought of it before. Or, someone did but the timing wasn't right. Class sizes have been growing without increasing the number of teachers for some time. Previously, the marking load might have been at the edge of reasonable.

    2) Someone thought of it but no one wanted to pay for the extra teaching staff, either because of budget restrictions or ideology. I don't think you'd need to double the number of teachers, but there would be an increase in staffing. Then again, since the mid-80s, every job site has been understaffed. Time to fix that.

    3) It makes sense. A lot of sense. Can't have that. The Catch-22 approach to government. There is a loud, vocal segment of the population that hates paying taxes for anyone else's benefit. Once in a while, their party gets in to the detriment of the province.

    4) It's a paradigm shift. No one can conceive the idea because their experience is from the student's view, not the teacher's. Almost everyone has been in a classroom as a student at some point; in elementary, you just have one teacher, two at most. In secondary, you get a teacher per subject, but just the one teacher.

    I like the idea. It's mind-blowing in its simplicity, though you did point out problems that could come up. I can see in some classes having both teachers at the front of the class at once being a benefit; drama comes to mind as does music. I just wish I knew how to get the idea out...

  2. I had two teachers in grade 6. One taught in the morning, the other in the afternoon. From a student's perspective, it broke the day quite nicely and I don't recall any real problems.

    For the teachers, I'm sure it had its advantages. The morning teacher was semi-retired and the afternoon teacher was also the school councilor.

    The idea definitely has merit and would be great to see in practice. I feel the biggest trouble will be to get the government to open the purse strings in order to pay for the extra needed teachers. It's hard enough to get them to pay for materials you need now, let alone for a new idea.

  3. Curtis: Interesting. Not 100% what I was talking about, as the morning teacher would still be there in the afternoon and vice versa, but your experience implies the practice is plausible.

    Scott: It's funny, someone found an exam schedule from twenty years ago; there were actually something like 9 days in January and AGAIN in June to handle the semester transition. I also see on Twitter that other places have less than our 184 instructional days. Why does Ontario feel the need to cram people into schools for as long as possible over 18 years, right from our new "full day" Kindergarten? Anyway.

    Thanks for the validation.

  4. This is done in the name of mainstreaming in my area. I've had 3 co-teachers, one handled papers and discipline but that's it. Another would say she would teach, but it was always next week (which never came) and the last we started well, til she went on maternity leave.

    The equitable sharing part is very difficult to manage. Without it, the kids qickly figure out who the real teacher is, and then neither teacher I very happy. At times, when it worked it was fun to have another person there to help with the material and clarify things for the students, but sadly it was the exception rather than the rule. Also, the special ed teachers are frequently pulled for things wgich meant that they were either trying to get caught back up or just frustrated themselves.

    Would I do it again? Sure, but the notion of unit, or even topic switch teaching, is not how I would attempt it. Make it an engagement between two professionals when we're both present, with neither of us coming across as 'the teacher'

    1. Yeah, I brought up the personality thing, then never really addressed it. It does seem like it would be the more difficult thing to manage. Nice to get the perspective of someone who's been there, thanks.

      I like the idea of the engagement, though of course part of my thought had been one person do upcoming lessons while the other do prior marking... which is not as feasible for the planner if neither is 'teaching', both are 'facilitating'. Still, there might be something to the whole notion. Something to keep pondering.