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Sign an Agreement with Your Team Teaching Partner

When I was a dual language teacher, I had the opportunity to work both as a self-contained teacher who taught in two languages, and as a side-by-side teacher who team taught.  I found both experiences very rewarding, and yet completely different.  As a self-contained teacher, I loved knowing all of my students across all content areas, but I found the need for linguistic adaptations in all subjects to be extremely demanding.  As one of two team teachers, I loved becoming an expert, but I found it very difficult to relinquish control over how I ran my classroom.  

That’s right!  When you team teach in a dual language immersion classroom, you automatically walk into the gray zone of compromise: the space between your complete control of everyday affairs, and that of your colleague’s.  Yet, your students have to experience the very beginning of school and the rest of the school year as if it were just one classroom environment.  I call this “teaching with one voice.”   

Dual language team teaching is like no other experience in the field of education because other teachers who collaborate usually do so under the same roof of the same classroom.  In the case of most dual language programs, team teachers are separated by walls, and very rarely see their colleagues teach and interact with students.  So, how do you iron out differences and become one voice?  You start by talking about your pet peeves.  You then open up about your coping mechanisms, and you use all of this information to create a detailed agreement on routines and procedures.  

Name Your Pet Peeves

What do pet peeves have to do with being a dual language teacher?  Everything!  I’ve written about pet peeves in the online context before.  The truth of the matter is that when you have OCD like I do, you tend to have quite a few teaching pet peeves, not just the online variety.  I’ve found out that even though my pet peeves are far more extreme and numerous than most of my colleagues, I am not alone in needing some control in the classroom. 

As teachers, we make our classrooms operate like mini-kingdoms where everything works in tip-top fashion to maximize our time with students, and to improve our communication within the group.  To move about our days as efficiently as possible, we create a lot of little routines or rules that simply improve the quality of life for the teacher, and more often than not, the students too.  What I’ve found is that as we get more proficient at teaching, we start compiling more and more ideas about how to better our classroom environments.  Well, all of those little improvements are very much a response to pet peeves. 

What’s a pet peeve in the classroom?  It’s something that bugs you so much that it feels like nails on a chalkboard.  My top pet peeve is when students use the pencil sharpener when I’m delivering instructions.  Seriously???  That’s what I’m thinking, and just to give you an idea of how much of a pet peeve it is, I get goosebumps every time a student gets up to sharpen their pencil.  My throat starts to clench.  I look at the student with a practiced, stern look, as I try to hold back a stern remark.  

This controlled response on my part takes a lot of effort.  Therefore, to avoid these types of minor aggravations throughout the day, I’ve developed coping mechanisms.  Coping mechanisms are systems and routines I’ve put in place to make my teaching space more pleasant to work in.  Here are some examples of coping mechanisms I’ve developed simply to avoid feeling annoyed by a pencil sharpener. 

Laugh if you must, but I have seen many teachers steal some of these ideas to take back to their own mini-kingdoms! 

So, what does it mean to “Name your pet peeves?”  You would be surprised at how many teachers feel ashamed of their pet peeves, and yet how you manage pet peeves is probably the reason why your mini-kingdom runs so smoothly!  When thinking about pet peeves in the context of dual language programs, I’m reminded of the book Ruby Has a Worry. Ruby has a worry, and because she keeps it in, it keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger, until she finally talks about it with a friend, and then it gets smaller again.  Well, naming your pet peeves is the best way to break the ice with your partner teacher.  It avoids ever getting to that snowball effect where the pet peeve is so big that it’s the elephant in the room, and you don’t know how to broach the topic anymore because it’s been too many weeks or months.  

Start the conversation early.  I encourage you and your colleague to set aside time to talk over some of your pet peeves.  Laugh about them.  I certainly do.  You’ll probably find that you better relate to each other because you’re able to picture yourself in each other’s classrooms.  If you’re lacking inspiration on pet peeves, below are some pet peeves I’ve heard of in the past. 

Talk Over Your Coping Mechanisms

Pet peeves do not exist in isolation.  You’ve identified them as a teacher, and you’ve likely developed a pretty elaborate system to stop this issue from recurring.  All of these little procedures that you’ve put in place make for a well-oiled machine, and you absolutely must share your tricks of the trade.  I’ve found it really helpful to act out as I tell my colleague what I model for students to do.  

Draft a Dual Language Co-Teaching Agreement

Co-teaching means agreeing on some basic principles.  Your pet peeves and coping mechanisms should help you define a lot of routines and procedures for both of your classrooms.  In addition, there are a few routines and procedures that are very specific to dual language immersion settings.  Below is a dual language co-teaching agreement.  It’s a table to help you work through four routines: handing out and putting away dry erase boards, turn and talk, transitioning between one class and the other, and positive reinforcement for use of language. 

I invite you to draw things out to help each other visualize what you are expecting to happen in the classroom.  You’ll see a box to jot down things to get ready in preparation for the routine.  Finally, I recommend writing what the teacher says and what the students do.  This helps each partner give crystal clear directions.  Keep this close at hand.  It’ll keep you both in line!

Dual language immersion co-teaching is often referred to as a marriage.  In fact, I hear a lot of teachers refer to their colleague as a work-wife or work-husband.  It’s so important to build a solid relationship by being really upfront about what matters to you in the daily running of your classroom.  Just like you should tell your boyfriend about the open toothpaste, you should talk about everything that bugs you in your mini-kingdom of a classroom.  The process I outline here helps neutralize the space so that it’s not about imposing one’s systems, but really engaging in a conversation to include both sides.  I hope this helps prepare you for next year!

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Your partner in all things dual language,


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