Sue Clark: The joy of co-teaching
“And gladly would he learn and gladly teach.”
— Canterbury Tales
Jenn asked me if I would be her co-teacher for my two high school English classes last year. Co-teacher is the new term replacing the master teacher/student teacher dynamic. Jenn hoped that we would be teaching together in my classes for two semesters. I’d be her mentor and point person for her college forms and evaluations.
I said no.
Being one of the oldest living teachers in Nevada County, I’d surely paid my dues as Filler Out of Forms and Grudging Attendee of sleep-inducing education meetings. My sarcastic parting gift from my high school staff in Irvine 13 years ago had been a laminated free pass to a faculty meeting if I were ever in the neighborhood.
I’d like to say that my better nature took over, that I stepped up to help a new teacher. I guess that happened, but I also wanted to steal any of her plans containing lessons on research writing and documentation. MLA, (Modern Language Association), the research documentation du jour, had not been invented when I was at college, and I thought she might teach it to me. LOL! I mean we’d teach it to the students.
I will add that I had also loved her company while she’d been observing my classes the previous semester.
The next day I said yes, and we embarked upon a journey of two educational souls entwined: hers meticulously planned and mine a series of intuitive leaps into the abyss, sometimes brilliant and occasionally comically chaotic.
Those two semesters are now over, and I will always feel so lucky to have agreed to work with this shining “born teacher.” There were so many advantages for both us and the students.
First of all, the students got to see two teachers with radically different styles interacting before their eyes.
I would turn to Jenn and say, “Shall we have them get into groups?”
“Sure,” she’d reply. “But we’ll assign the groups.”
Sometimes we’d disagree on an interpretation of a novel, and the students would watch our respectful interchanges. Our deep reading lessons for literature often differed.
We’d diverge on a poem or add to an interpretation of a short story. Not only did the students see two points of view, but they saw two different generations respectful of each other.
I am semi-retired and into grandchildren. Jenn is a mother of three who commuted to college over an hour away and still was able to balance family time with constant school work.
The best examples of our different teaching styles can be seen by two lessons, one planned by each of us.
The first was my assignment for our three honor English students in the ninth- and 10th-grade class. They had chosen three plays to read (parent permission!): “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” “King Lear,” and “No Exit.” I told them to come to class prepared to discuss their play and give out scenes to the rest of the students to act out.
Jenn looked shocked. “But what is your plan?” she asked.
“My plan is to see how it goes,” I replied with insouciance.
The honors kids passed out scenes, divided students into groups and directed rehearsals. The scenes came out great. “It’s magic,” I grinned.
Jenn’s lesson, augmenting the tragic autobiography of a Holocaust survivor, was meticulously planned. She had several stations set up with lap tops and archival and other materials on World War II. She assigned groups and had a timer. Each group was to go from table to table. The lesson was stunningly good and the kids moved with purpose and productivity. We called the other teachers to come and observe. This was Jenn’s magic. I’m stealing that lesson.
How I will miss her. In a world where money would be no object, we should have two teachers in each class. I will always be grateful I had the opportunity to learn from Jenn and to teach her.
Sue Clark lives in Grass Valley.
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