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Studies teacher Gregory Irwin teaches Advanced Placement World History, a class he teaches with Shawna Matteson. Photo by Maya Bell.

Partner teaching at RBHS benefits lesson plans

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ince the mid-’90s, partner teaching at RBHS has offered a way to combine English and history. For social studies teacher Shawna Matteson, partner teaching increases her job satisfaction, as well as her proficiency and expertise as an educator.

“Teaching [alone] can be very isolating. [Partner teaching] has benefitted my lessons and my skill set as an educator to have someone with whom to plan activities.  Two different personalities hit a greater number of student personalities in a given class roster. I have always had some students I connect with more easily than others, hopefully each teacher connects with different students,” Matteson said. “[Social studies teacher Gregory Irwin and I] each think of things the other didn’t and [have] different strengths in running a classroom.  The division of labor in my partnerships have occurred organically between us. I have always taken on being in charge of attendance every day as it is an area of strength for me. This freed up my partner to start class and focus students on the tasks at hand.”

A second adult in the classroom makes taking care of basic needs, such as using the restroom or leaving the classroom much easier, Matteson said. Despite having double the number of students, having two sets of eyes on the classroom from a management perspective makes keeping students on task and engaged more reasonable. Most importantly, Matteson said two different sets of experiences and teaching knowledge expands the level of skill in front of the room.  While partner teaching has plenty of benefits to offer, sharing class time with another teacher within the same block has its drawbacks, too.

“[Partner teaching is] also really hard. It involves a lot of give and take — sometimes of things I don’t want to give up. It requires a lot more time before class to plan stuff,” English teacher Nicole Clemens said. “When I only taught single sections, I had a vague idea of what I was doing and then we went for it, and it worked. But with a partner, we’ve got to figure out things like exactly how long [my partner teacher Chris] Fischer is going to lecture.  [For example] we’ve got a weird 20 minutes on Thursday [and we have to figure out] what’s the best use of it. I want to give an exam on Tuesday, but Fischer is giving one on Monday and that’s crazy town.”

Clemens and Matteson are just two of many other teachers who are paired up to tag team teach. While teachers get a say in the classes they like to teach and who they would like to pair up with, it is administrators and department chairs who ultimately make the final decision, Matteson said.

[quote]“We are paired partly by teaching style, personality and preferred subject; however, we all do what is needed if a partnership doesn’t match up perfectly to those criteria,” Matteson said. “It can be quite the puzzle when you have new teachers coming in and the possibility of teachers changing subjects. The department chairs seek input from all of the teachers as to how they feel about the success of the partnership and if we want to continue teaching with the same person and same subjects.”[/quote]

Sophomore Shanley Silvey has taken civics studies and is currently enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) World History, both of which are partner taught.  Having two teachers discussing a single topic allows for more perspective; however, Silvey believes this teaching method isn’t fit for every subject.

“I feel like [partner teaching] is effective. But I sometimes feel like one teacher may be biased on certain subjects or topics.  I know teachers will spend more time on lessons or topics they like and tend to focus more on them.  It’s also helpful that there’s another teacher to balance it out, so I feel that material is pretty much evenly covered,” Silvey said. “I don’t believe partner teaching would work as well with subjects such as math and science, though, because those subjects are more straightforward and less interpretive. It might be confusing to have two teachers.”

Like Silvey, senior Kaelyn Kovarik, who has been around partner teaching for all four years of high school, is hesitant to believe that classes other than English and social studies would thrive in a partner-taught format.

“I think other courses could be hard to combine, but I am in the contemporary issues class.  Contemporary issues is looking at modern science and social issues going on in the world, and all the implications on both sides.  I think [partner teaching] works really well for that situation,” Kovarik said. “I regret some [partner taught classes], but I think it was the teacher dynamic. I think that I would have learned less in AP United States History is if wasn’t team taught because they helped develop skills for each other, but civics studies and world history seemed less helpful to have both [teachers.]   In those earlier classes the subjects felt less integrated.  I didn’t feel as much like I developed skills in both subjects as I did later in AP United States history.”

As a solution to juggling the information that needs to be taught in the span of a single class period, Matteson believes a new profession such as a teacher’s assistant would be ideal. This suggestion, for example, could be a certified program of up to 60 hours.

“There is so much more to teaching than the lessons each day, and all of the tasks of meetings, managing the room [and] communications with parents/guidance make it very hard for a classroom teacher to spend the time analyzing test data, researching to stay fresh on their subject and profession and creating differentiated lessons and activities for the students,” Matteson said. “If a teacher’s assistant could help with some of the more regularly occurring tasks managing a classroom, that would free up a master’s level educational professional to apply their expertise.”

Do you like partner teaching at RBHS? Let us know in the comments below.

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3 comments

Amanda November 9, 2017 at 12:12 pm

I really dislike the paired social studies and English classes. We never get adequate English education and it’s frustrating. Last year in Civics, each semester 80% of our grade would be based on essays we wrote, but we only spent two days out of the whole school year learning how to write essays. I’m in tenth grade and I don’t know the parts of speech. I’ve learned more about grammatical structure in French than I ever have in an English class. I still don’t really know what a thesis is or how to properly craft one. Writing, literacy, and being able to communicate effectively are such important skills that we are being deprived of learning because of the ineffectiveness of paired social studies and English classes.

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Ethan Hayes November 9, 2017 at 11:18 am

I absolutely loved having Matteson and Irwin. Because of their awesome teaching skills and help I was able to get a 5 on the AP World test.

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Rachael Erickson November 8, 2017 at 8:04 pm

The teacher perspective on team-teaching is really interesting, because I’ve always wondered how they plan out their responsibilities. Great article!

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