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.