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Co-Teaching - Training Professionals To Teach

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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Teaching with more than one instructor in the classroom goes by many names-team teaching, co-teaching, teaching assistant, collaborative teaching, and inter-disciplinary teaching. At Central Michigan University, we piloted a model we call "co-teaching." The model arose from the desire of graduate students in professional programs-who are often attending graduate school in addition to working full time-to gain teaching experience.


The posting below looks at a co-teaching program with faculty and graduate students in professional graduate programs . It is by Pamela Eddy, Ph.D., Central Michigan University and Regina Mitchell, M.A., Doctoral Candidate, Director of Distance Learning, Mid-Michigan Community College. It is number 33 in a series of selected excerpts from the National Teaching and Learning Forum newsletter reproduced here as part of our "Shared Mission Partnership." NT&LF has a wealth of information on all aspects of teaching and learning. If you are not already a subscriber, you can check it out at [] The on-line edition of the Forum--like the printed version - offers subscribers insight from colleagues eager to share new ways of helping students reach the highest levels of learning. National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter, Volume 15, Number 4, ? Copyright 1996-2006. Published by James Rhem & Associates, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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Innovations: Co-Teaching - Training Professionals To Teach

Teaching with more than one instructor in the classroom goes by many names-team teaching, co-teaching, teaching assistant, collaborative teaching, and inter-disciplinary teaching. At Central Michigan University, we piloted a model we call "co-teaching." The model arose from the desire of graduate students in professional programs-who are often attending graduate school in addition to working full time-to gain teaching experience.

Unlike traditional disciplines that support a number of graduate assistants-the sciences, humanities, and social sciences-students in professional graduate programs in educational administration, business administration, and health sciences generally find fewer teaching assistant opportunities and often can not take on full-time teaching assistant positions given outside obligations of work and family. Yet a portion of these grad students want to train for a second or dual career in teaching. Such students have strong experiential backgrounds to draw upon, but have not had the opportunity to be responsible for teaching. When we look at the professionals who commonly take up teaching later in their careers, we find evidence that this situation has been with us a long time. As a result of their work responsibilities, such late career teachers bring a background in leading professional development and training sessions, but these training opportunities have generally been of short duration. Those who have done some adjunct teaching have generally done it without the benefit of formal grounding in teaching practices and strategies. Most often, they have not had focused, sustained experience in teaching. Thus, we saw both a present and an historic need a new mentoring, training model might meet. Moreover, we saw the benefits going both ways: when we first discussed co-teaching, we saw it as an opportunity that would benefit the teaching-present and future-of both the regular faculty member and the graduate student.

Power and Openness

>From the outset, we recognized that a power

differential existed between the faculty member and the grad student, but we strove to make co-teaching a blend of equal partnership and mentoring. Self-reflection was a large part of the process. In our co-teaching experiment, both of us kept reflective journals on our experiences throughout the semester. We were consciously aware of our individual teaching perspectives (Pratt, 2002) and frequently discussed how those perspectives guided and affected our teaching. Rather than skirt the power issue, we faced it and reflected on how it might affect the classroom atmosphere as well as the co-teaching arrangement. Key to this honest dialogue was a willingness on the part of the faculty to be open to critique and for the graduate student to feel willing to offer suggestions, even when they ran counter to the faculty point of view.

Perhaps the most important part of the co-teaching model for us was the pairing of the faculty and graduate student. Because the power differential must be addressed, it's important for both members of the team to be willing and able to work through and negotiate issues. In the scenario presented here, the faculty member, Pamela, and student, Regina, had known each other for three years. Regina was in the Master's program at Central Michigan University when Pam started teaching. Currently, Regina is enrolled in the doctoral program in educational leadership. Over time, it became apparent that Regina had a desire to pursue a faculty position and that practice in the classroom would be a benefit when on the job market. Pam was planning a course on Teaching in Higher Education and felt this would be a good match for Regina's needs since the course content also addressed pertinent issues surrounding teaching practices.

Following are our reflections on co-teaching a class. Each of us addresses the issues that arose during the co-teaching arrangement. Finally, we review the arrangement and conclude with suggestions for others contemplating co-teaching.

Faculty Impressions

My first reaction when Regina approached me about co-teaching was excitement. This opportunity would provide her with some valuable experience as she prepared for a faculty role and I thought it would also help me by alleviating some of my work load. As I reflected on the process as it unfolded, I found that some of my initial expectations were met, while others were not. The overriding theme from my reflections for the semester included a sensitivity to power dynamics. In the end, this was my class and I was responsible; still, I wanted to be sensitive to the contributions Regina was making and to make sure I wasn't taking over too much-either in the planning or in the classroom interactions. The biggest surprise for me was the amount of time involved in co-teaching. Since I was accountable to another person, we had to work out a way to prepare for class well in advance. Given the fact that Regina also has a full-time job, this often meant meeting before or after work to organize the outline for the class. This additional meeting was well worth the time spent, but it was over and above the time that I normally allocate to class preparation. Since we truly set up co-construction of the class, it was not as if I had total responsibility one week and she another. There was no down time.

I felt that the co-teaching opportunity would give Regina a real look at classroom management and preparation. I anticipated that this would differ from having a TA since Regina would have more say in course construction and have more of a voice. My other thought was that having her in the classroom would make my teaching more authentic. I would have someone to confer with after class to really deconstruct what went well and what didn't. I felt that the students taking the class would benefit from having two different perspectives.

In attempts to maintain the balance of power, I had to consciously be open to suggestions, critiques, and assessments of how things were going. Even though I was receptive to change, I could anticipate that I might feel differently if Regina and I had not had the foundation of a respectful relationship already established. It helped our co-teaching relationship that we shared common teaching perspectives and learning style orientations. We both prefer a developmental approach to teaching and are oriented to approach learning by reflection and application. However, this commonality was a two-edged sword. Our similarities may have blinded us to being receptive to student learning needs coming from different perspectives. A certain level of competing perspectives might have provided a different, perhaps richer, approach to the class.

Consciously reflecting on the process each week and communicating as issues arose proved to be a key to the success of the co-teaching experience. Students felt comfortable approaching either one of us during or after class. If I had an off-night, Regina was there to help support the students. Perhaps the biggest joy in the co-teaching experience was having the time dedicated to talking and thinking about my own teaching. As faculty, we are often isolated in the work we do in the classroom. Having someone share the teaching experience provided a forum in which I was able to reflect on my teaching, critique the learning experience for students, and develop ideas for improvement. The extra time and effort to make this situation work out was well worth the effort. Likely, I would say yes to a co-teaching opportunity in the future.

Graduate Student Impressions

I approached Pam with the idea of co-teaching for a number of reasons, the most selfish being that I hope to teach in the future, and without experience I will not have that opportunity. Co-teaching would also give me the opportunity to see if this was something I was good at. Having Pam as a guide would lessen the pressure (or so I thought!) of being in the classroom.

I knew that teaching would be a lot of work, but I had no idea what kind of preparation went into it. We met several times over the summer and kept in constant e-mail and telephone communication in order to plan the course. We revised the syllabus and planned activities. We went over all of the readings on the old syllabus and discussed whether or not we should keep, remove, or add readings, and what the order should be. We relied on information from the previous class as well as our own impressions.

To be honest, I never expected to play a large part in teaching the class. I was aware of what typical TA responsibilities were, and I thought that my role would be that of a TA. So, I was very surprised each time Pam accepted one of my suggestions or decided to try one of my ideas. Though I became more comfortable in time with giving her input and sharing my opinions, I never quite lost the feeling that this was her class. So I restrained myself from giving what I felt was too much input and/or feedback.

Pam never made me feel like I was any less important than she was in teaching or prepping for the class, but I placed those restrictions on myself. When the class actually began, I found that I had a difficult time leading a session when Pam was in the room. I still felt like a student and was very conscious of everything I did, wondering and hoping that she would approve, and still afraid of being "wrong." This is a burden that I place on myself quite often, not just in this context. I am happy to say that by the end of the term I was much more comfortable taking a lead role. What surprised me the most was that the students seemed to accept my role as co-instructor more readily than I did! When they approached me with questions or e?mailed for advice, it just seemed incredible. The students seemed to enjoy having both Pam's and my perspective on class issues. This helped with my comfort level as "the expert," but I never fully got over the feeling of being an impostor.

Pam's attitude was the key to the entire experience. If she had been more territorial, or if she had less faith in me, I might have retreated to the safety of being the TA. However, she was always very careful to include me as an equal in all aspects of teaching and prep. We met weekly to discuss the previous class and to plan for the next one. Those meetings were incredibly valuable for both technical and emotional reasons.

I am grateful to have had this opportunity, and I hope to teach with Pam again. Having had this experience, I can say that I can't wait to be in front of a classroom again.

Implications for Practice

There are multiple benefits in a co-teaching opportunity, the biggest being an enriched learning environment for students. For the co-teachers, a good match between the faculty member and the graduate student is key to making the most of the classroom experience. Given the voluntary nature of the co-teaching arrangement, not all students will be guaranteed an opportunity for teaching or all faculty be interested in participating. A faculty member must be willing to open up his or her classroom and the graduate student must be willing to ask for an opportunity to assist and to recognize the work commitment involved in the assignment.

As a learning opportunity for faculty and graduate students, there are many benefits to the co-teaching arrangement. Inherent in the relationship is an opportunity for reflection. Brookfield (1995) noted that critical reflection was important to improving teaching since it provides continuous feedback from students on their learning experience and for faculty on their experience in order to make informed decisions. In a co-teaching scenario, the graduate student becomes a mirror and magnifying glass for the faculty member's continuing reflection on her or his teaching at the same time that the graduate student is experiencing the same opportunity for reflection in a training situation. For faculty early in their career, this form of self-reflection and contemplation is vital to establishing their teaching skills, allowing for fewer feelings of isolation commonly felt by new faculty. On the other hand, for faculty members further along in their careers, co-teaching with a graduate student affords the opportunity to rejuvenate a course or to experiment with new teaching strategies, as well as to pass along tips generated from years of classroom teaching experience.

A valuable lesson for graduate students who have the opportunity to co-teach is that learning about and experimenting with teaching does not end after the first course preparation. For the faculty member, co-teaching provides an impetus to rethink how they see the course materials and progression of course topics, given the fresh set of eyes provided by their teaching partner. Enhanced self-awareness provides a foundation for success in a co-teaching relationship. Each member comes to understand her own strengths and how her perspective interacts with others.

How might co-teaching become institutionalized and move beyond the unique experiment of a single faculty member working with a particular graduate student? Institutionalizing co-teaching opportunities would open up the teaching track to others who may not be well connected within the department or to those who might not know such opportunities could exist. Formalizing the program might occur at the departmental level or become a university-wide sponsored activity via a faculty development office. These co-teaching partnerships could be very selective mentorships in which the faculty member and the mentee came to know each other's perspectives on teaching and develop a relationship based on reflective practices and trust. Indeed, any program of this kind should encourage students to form relationships with faculty in advance of the teaching experience. In order for the co-teaching to work as intended, the mentor and mentee must share a relationship with an elevated level of trust.

Recent research points out the critical role graduate school socialization plays in preparing future faculty (Austin, 2002). Co-teaching relationships with faculty members and professional graduate students could provide an important opportunity for graduate students seeking to become faculty members to become critically reflective teachers and to begin to hone their classroom skills early on. The co-teaching partnership provides a unique forum for socialization since the graduate mentee receives valuable experiences that will aid them when they become new faculty, but just as importantly, the faculty member also learns and grows during the process.


* Austin, A.E. 2002. "Preparing the Next Generation of Faculty: Graduate School as Socialization to the Academic Career." Journal of Higher Education 73, 94-122.

* Brookfield, S.D. 1995. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

* Pratt, D.D., and Associates. 1998. Five Perspectives on Teaching in Adult and Higher Education. Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company.