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Naked Teaching

April 10, 2014

As the school year winds down I’m getting a chance to reflect on what it has been like to co-teach a class.  This year I had the unique opportunity to job-share with a dear friend and colleague.  She and I teach the same classes, but I teach on Mondays and Tuesdays, she teaches on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and we alternate on Fridays.

Part of the co-planning and job sharing process has required us to take copious notes about what is happening in our class.  Some of this copious note-taking is pretty usual for me.  I have always planned lessons pretty throughly, and I have made it a habit of daily reflection.  We have shared unit plans over dropbox, and taken turns doing long-term planning and making lots of comments, suggestions and revisions.  Sharing openly about planning, how a lesson went, or getting my teaching ideas critiqued has been exciting in many ways.  Our lessons are better because we are each getting suggestions and support from a fresh pair of eyes.  It is great to have a teacher-partner to bounce ideas off of, even simply on a shared document.

However, there is another type of openness that has been more difficult to me.  Here is my dirty secret (ok, not so secret).  Sometimes I screw up.  Big time.  When I screw up with a lesson, I don’t worry about it too much.  I can usually correct the mistake by re-teaching the next day, or even fix the lesson between first and second period, so that only one class gets the worst of it.  No big deal.  But sometimes I screw up on more important things.  Like how I handle classroom management.  Like when I should follow through with a consequence and don’t.  Like when I mess up a relationship with a student because I’m tired.  Or frustrated.  Or hungry.  Or really tired.

Early on in the school year, I had a student just walk out of my class.  No permission asked.  No eye contact.  Just waited until my back was turned and walked out.  He came back later, very calmly, and I had to talk to him and make a decision about what to do.  Do I yell at him in the hall?  Do I call student support personal?  Do we have a serious talk in which I make it clear that this behavior is unacceptable?  I ended up with the last option.  I didn’t even assign a detention, which I should have in retrospect.  In many ways I was just floored that this had happened.

Then I had to go and write up the notes for my teacher partner.  There, on the shared document, I had to admit my failing.  I had to share that I had been so oblivious that a student had walked out, and I hadn’t even realized he was gone until he came back in.  If he had left for the day I may not even have known it.  I had given little consequence, although I knew I should have.  And I had to lay it all out, failings and all, all so a friend I admired would read it.

It felt like naked teaching; I was stripping down all my layers of protection.  I was embarrassed.  I was angry at the kid and at myself. I considered not writing it out – it wasn’t that big a deal, was it?  But I had to.  What if he tried to pull the same stunt with her (although I knew she would catch it because she is way more aware in the classroom than me).  More importantly, we were partners. I knew that this kind of partnership was going to require copious note-taking and communication.  But I hadn’t prepared myself for the vulnerability that came with it.  I had to be open and honest about my failures with someone else, someone else who had to show up the next day and deal with my failures.

I’d love to say this vulnerability has taught me to make fewer mistakes, to be closer to “perfect” in the classroom.  But the reality is that I still make mistakes, still screw up, on an embarrassingly regular basis.  However, what I have realized is that our vulnerability can actually be incredibly helpful.  My teaching partner doesn’t yell at me.  She is empathetic, understanding, and helps me figure out how to deal with my errors.  Together, she and I make a better teacher than either one of us would be on our own.  And I think that happens because we don’t compartmentalize ourselves and hide ourselves from each other.  Our openness has helped us both be better teachers for the kids in front of us.

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4 Comments
  1. Eryn permalink

    I had a class like that. It didn’t work out. Our kids didn’t respond well to the two-teacher model, and my co-teacher was busy with cheer coach stuff, so I ended up taking over the class. I think part of the problem was the kids we serve (impoverished, rural, minority, under-literate) don’t respond well to change, and this class was thrown together with no time for planning beforehand. But also, my co-teacher and I were finding it difficult to communicate as well as we should have. I’d love to try it again, if my partner and I have some time to plan, a thorough scope and sequence, and about a week to really co-teach the class and get to know the students before switching days. But I’m having similar problems in my inclusion classes, too; in the name of efficiency my co-teacher is also expected to function as an ARD facilitator and case manager and co-teach two periods with another teacher. We have no common planning time. She does not stay after school or arrive early, and thus never knows what’s going on in the classroom. And therefore does very little teaching. It seems like a lot of planning here falls by the wayside, and in the end the faculty and students pay for it.

    • This sounds like such a rough situation! When my colleague and I decided to job share, there were several things we requested (and were granted) by administration – one prep was definitely one of them. That, plus the fact that we have taught the same course together at our school for four years was key. It takes SOOOO much planning, coordination, and understanding of each other’s key principles (as you obviously well know). Otherwise I think job sharing would be an exercise in frustration like you describe. I agree – in situations like these the faculty and students pay for it.

  2. Ms. L-P,

    This comment actually has nothing to do with this post, but is a response to the recent article you wrote for Education Week. I couldn’t find another way to get in contact with you, so I’m just posting here.

    Like you, I’m trying to figure out how to get students not only to write well content-wise (mastering organization, transitions, clarity, mustering support, etc.) but also how to avoid all those silly, superficial mistakes that, as you put it, are the bane of English teachers. At this point, I’m not even really bothering with them since, aside from using this Self-Editing checklist I half-heartedly implemented and that kind of seemed to work, I don’t know quite how to address them. My students write frequently, but when they have a big end-of-the-unit essay, I give them about a week in class to work on it, thus freeing me up to conference with them individually.

    I would like to know specifically how you get your students to begin their revision process. In your article, you said that if you find more than two major spelling, grammatical or punctuation mistakes, you hand their portfolios back ungraded. But I guess my question is: How do the students know what they’re looking for? Do you give them a list? Do you individually point out mistakes to them before their revisions?

    Feel free to email me!

    patzinzy at gmail dot com

    Patrick

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