As a Teaching Artist (TA), I am not supposed to be alone in a classroom with the students. The Classroom Teacher (CT), or another vetted or accredited individual (subs, mainly) must be in attendance at all times. Whether as a solo TA or one who works for an Arts Organization (AO), I have normally tried, over the years, to have the CT be more of a partner then someone who just has to sit in the room.
One of my early days as a TA, I was assigned to work in a school spread across a number of different grades. I didn’t meet with the CTs, as planning sessions were a thing of the future. Normally, a school group hired you (normally from the PTA/PTO), you scheduled a date(s), and that was pretty much it. The hiring group rarely consulted the school after their initial meetings. I had a roller coaster of a ride with the different personalities, carelessness on both parties, and then..that First Grade Teacher.
She sat in the back of the room, talking (and laughing loudly) on the phone in full voice, or would walk to the door, stand out in the hall, and talk to someone in a full voice. She rustled papers, opened and slammed drawers, and would refuse all entreaties to join in on what we were doing. I asked her. The kids asked her. Nada. Who do you think the kids paid attention to? I wasn’t strong enough, then, to keep their attention. They followed whatever she did, where she went, etc. Kinda a fiasco. The worst of it? She gave me a very bad evaluation.
Over the years, I have team taught with some wonderful teachers: supportive, team planners and partners all the way through. There is a dance that goes on when you team teach: one may lead, but I feel at all times you both have to look like you are totally in sync, even when a step is missed. It’s a compliment to each other in the presentation. It should also be all about the audience: your students. It’s not about which one of you has the most experience, whose room it is (please…territory and teachers could be it’s own thesis), who blah blah blah. The sharing of the same space should be a safe working environment for everyone involved.
I have also team taught with people who are not very good team players. A TA walks into anothers’ space. He or she also does not work with the students on a day to day, September to June, getting to know the kids inside and out. A TA doesn’t have to get “schooled,” yet often a power struggle can rear it’s ugly head, where the CT feels they have to retain complete control. Partnerships go out the window. It shouldn’t be about prep times, schedule changes, giving up five extra minutes, or taking in five minutes less, or other inflexibility that is really self imposed.
The TA does have to accommodate the various egos and temperaments, and a successful one does it like that dancer above who was born to dance. I love Team Teaching when it’s filled with mutual respect, a complete loss of the ego on both sides, and the work is geared for the ultimate goal: giving the students the best experience they can get. I love getting critique, learning where to jump in this classroom, side step in another, and dip together in harmony.
A good planning session, with everyone in agreement, is key. Then, follow up discussions and a few reflective meetings, and all should be fine. When taking on an assignment like this, I feel it’s important for both sides to realize they have a responsibility not only to each others needs/demands, but what, again, will come out best for the students. Everyone has to give up something at some point; it’s best when the goal is kept at the forefront of that.
I will be writing more on the conclusions of two of my sessions in the next couple of days: The Process Drama on Bullying, and Devised Theater: Decoding Songs of Democracy and Freedom.