What to do if you are not the only teacher in the class: tips and advices

Co-teaching in ESL/EFL classrooms

Co-teaching in ESL/EFL classrooms

30.06.2023

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  • Teaching qualifications
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

My first experience of not being the only teacher in the classroom happened when I started teaching English at an elementary school in Thailand. My Thai colleague, Meen, was always there.

At first, I was surprised and sometimes even annoyed that students called her from time to time, asked her questions in Thai, and I did not understand what was happening, because I was supposed to be their teacher, not she!!!

In Ukraine, I hadn’t worked with anyone in pairs, so it was a big shock.

Today, as more and more educational institutions are becoming inclusive, co-teaching or collaborative team teaching is becoming the order of the day. However, it is not just about inclusion.

At my school, for example, we taught students the MEP (Mini English Program) program, in which English is the language of instruction for most school subjects.

So, as it turned out, my colleague was not a distraction, and she was not there to keep discipline, but was as fully legitimate a teacher as I was. 

Unfortunately, not all teachers are familiar with co-teaching models, and do not know what the essence of collaboration is, how to plan classes, what it looks like in the classroom, and so on. That’s what will be discussed in this blog post.

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Co-teaching English

The idea of co-teaching is that more than one teacher works with the class, and this has a positive effect on students’ learning. Typically, when co-teaching takes place, teachers agree on a shared responsibility for a group of students: this applies to the specific content of the course, the tasks with mutual ownership, the combined resources, and so on.

Not only students with special educational needs, but any other students at any academic level benefit from alternative tasks and more attention from teachers to small group activities, which is made possible by co-teaching.

Thanks to the work of several teachers, learning in a general educational environment becomes more intensive and individualized. In addition, students with special educational needs get unlimited access to the general education curriculum, and the issue of stigma almost disappears.

This approach makes it possible to teach the same content to all students and to adhere to the same educational standards. Among the other benefits of co-teaching:

  • the workload and stress for the teachers are reduced;
  • you and a colleague can learn a lot from each other;
  • you get the opportunity to reflect and analyze what works well and what doesn’t, and how it can be improved.

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Working in pairs with a colleague is not always easy, and for either party it may even be uncomfortable. What can be done to make co-teaching effective and successful?

Here are some tips to help you work with a colleague.

1. Mutual respect is the key to any successful relationship as well as to co-teaching. One part of respecting each other is building a friendly relationship. If possible, do this before you start teaching together. Meet and find something in common.

If you are comfortable together, students will also be more comfortable with the two of you in class. They can easily feel tension and harmony, and this affects their ability to learn.

2. Find out  which model of co-teaching is used in your school. Then you can easily define roles and responsibilities. Try to understand where you can support each other. It’s a good idea to discuss discipline and classroom management, rules for students on what to do and what not to do, policies on classroom and homework assignments, assessment, communication with students (and parents), etc.

3. For a teacher who is constantly improving and learning, flexibility is of great importance. Yes, you may have some handy, proven learning strategies and tricks that work, but what if your coworker has an idea that might be even better for your students?

One of the key benefits of co-teaching is having a different perspective on how to teach, what resources to use, etc.

4. If possible, plan your classes together. This way, you can focus on each other’s strengths to teach as effectively as possible. Perhaps one of your strengths is that you always find great examples for understanding or teaching grammar, while your colleague is good at teaching writing and using effective teaching activities. Use this to create cool lessons!

5. Communication is another key to a successful relationship. Use inclusive language (OUR students, OUR classroom). Your colleague is your partner; use the language that demonstrates this.

Talk about students: those who are doing well, those who are having a hard time, those who are constantly interfering in class.

Talk about assessment and the different things you can bring or do. Inform each other about important events or situations that happened during the lesson.

Co-teaching models

There are three co-teaching models often used in EFL/ESL classrooms.

One teaches, the other observes. This can be the observation of a silent partner, and the observing teacher can help you with difficult students, for example, with translating when needed. Using this approach, teachers can decide in advance what information to collect during teaching observations and even agree on a data collection system. After that, they analyze the information together.

Pros:

  • It allows unobstructed observation and collecting data.
  • The teacher receives information useful for future teaching, intervention, and grouping of students.

Cons:

  • There may be a dynamic in which students see only one teacher as a “real” teacher.
  • This can make it difficult to build strong partnerships between colleagues.

One teaches, the other assists. In this model, one teacher conducts classes, and the other helps to discipline students, moves around the classroom, deals with the students who need help, etc. It is important to change these roles from time to time.

Pros:

  • It allows one teacher to teach the lesson without being distracted by students who need help.
  • Students get real-time assistance when needed.
  • It allows excellent management of large groups of students.
  • New teachers have the opportunity to observe more experienced colleagues.

Cons:

  • In one of the teachers students can see only a disciplinator.
  • It may seem that one teacher is more important than another.
  • Students can be lazy, because they know that they will always receive immediate help from the teacher.
  • It requires careful planning for the teaching assistant to be effective.

One teaches one day, the other teaches the next day. This is a fairly common practice in schools where students have two or more English lessons per week. A native English teacher teaches one lesson (sometimes more focused on pronunciation, grammar, or other skills), and another “local” teacher teaches during another lesson. This is the model I could try myself as well.

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My Thai colleague Dao taught grammar, writing and reading (twice a week), and I practiced speaking and listening with my learners once a week. At the beginning of the school year, we agreed on responsibilities.

I can say it was very effective teaching, because my colleague could explain various differences or incomprehensible things in my students’ native language, and then in my classes they could enjoy the fact that they were actually speaking English and they knew what to say.

During breaks, we often shared impressions of our lessons, the successes and failures of the students, and could tell each other what to pay attention to. The only disadvantages of this approach were that I rarely saw my students, and that the number of students was too large for one teacher.

Classes in Thailand are not divided into subgroups, as in Ukraine, so there can be 30-40 little “ants” in your classroom, which is very difficult to manage.

Such group sharing is also practiced by teachers of our educational center. Despite the fact that they are all certified and have about the same set of tools and techniques for teaching English, their classes are very different and interesting for students.

Among the advantages of this approach:

  • constant effect of novelty, which supports the interest of students;
  • students have a better understanding of complex language issues, because each teacher explains them differently;
  • classes are more engaging due to the fact that each teacher adds some variety;
  • students get used to different accents of English;
  • classes are of better quality, because two teachers plan them together;
  • students get more objective feedback.

Altogether co-teaching has more advantages than disadvantages. So do not be afraid of trying something new!

Article authors & editors
  • Yulia Chorna

    Yulia Chorna

    Author

    DELTA Module 1, CELTA certified teacher of General & Business English

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