October 20, 2015

Co-Teaching and a Teaching Philosophy Challenge

*There's a challenge at the end of this post to write your teaching philosophy in a few bullet points. Feel free to skip to there if you're not up for an emotional story.

Five years ago I moved to Salem and started teaching Fundamentals of Geometry among other things. I had a co-teacher, Lori, and it was the first time I had a co-teacher full time rather than a special educator pulling kids out or pushing in to my class on a sporadic basis. It was great. Over the past five years we've learned from each other, learned together (taking many grad classes together), developed routines and even made the big decision to move down to ninth grade with the stipulation that we had to be placed together. That's what our course preference sheets say every year - "I'll take two double blocks, including the contained math class, as long as I get to teach with Tina/Lori."

At the beginning of this year the head of special ed had a meeting for everyone who is co-teaching this year and we were mentioned as an ideal co-teaching pair. I never imagined I'd be wishing I had gotten to attend that meeting with someone else. The goal of the meeting was to get to know your co-teacher (which was silly for Lori and I) and to start planning out how you would work together in the classroom. We had that down too, but it should've been a chance for us to share ideas we'd come up with since our last meeting. Instead it was a chance for her to update me on her latest doctor appointment, yet another inconclusive test, and to decide if I wanted a sub for her next appointment (the first week of school). We knew something was wrong back in the spring but despite getting sicker over the summer none of her doctors could diagnose her with anything. It took a couple more weeks, but they finally found cancer, advanced stages of it. It took a while longer to decide on a treatment plan but she just submitted paperwork stating that she'll be out for a minimum of six months.

Starting the year expecting her to be there and then a couple weeks in to find myself on my own with a substitute has been incredibly hard. There are so many things that we did together that I never realized. Tiny things like she put in attendance while I handed out papers. Bigger things like being able to step in and finish my sentence for me when allergies struck and I had a coughing fit. I forgot what it's like to have a stranger in my room. A stranger I didn't even do the silly getting to know you activity with. I'm working hard to not blame the sub for not being able to step directly into Lori's shoes without any transition required. But it's really frustrating when she tells the kids tricks or does the work for them. And then it's frustrating when I don't know what to tell her other than "Don't do that!" I've realized that it's no easy task to describe my teaching philosophy in a few easy to understand points. Even after being in my room for a few weeks the sub hasn't figured it all out, so I need to write them down and then find a way to clearly explain my goals to her.

*Here's the challenge: Can you explain your teaching philosophy in a few bullet points without any teacher lingo?

Here's my attempt:

All ideas have value. All people have value. 
No put downs of any kind. Telling a kid "this is easy" dismisses their idea that the work is challenging. Ignoring someone's contribution and focusing on an alternative answer/strategy devalues the original person's thoughts. Yes, it's going to take me a really long time to go over this one problem, but it's totally worth it if every student feels like their contribution matters to me.

Math makes sense, it's not a bunch of random rules.
Please don't recite tricks at them. Please. My kids process things at different rates, if someone figures out a shortcut - congratulate them! But let other kids get there on their own time. Everyone gets a chance to experience the context or the long way before we move to the abstraction or the shortcut. Then they have some understanding to fall back on when they forget, because everyone (memory disability or not) forgets.

Students need to know how to do the work independently, so they need to practice independently. (Even my kids with severe learning disabilities can think all by themselves!)
That might mean walking away and letting them struggle. That might mean showing them how to use resources they have (notes, classmates) rather than telling them how to do something. That might mean coming up with another example to work out with them and then asking them to do the one on the assignment independently.

How'd I do? Clear enough? What would you include?


  1. So sorry to hear about your friend. Cancer sucks. I like your teaching philosophy.

  2. I think these are great bullet points! Short, but full of good stuff. I was thinking a good one might be "don't try to teach them math, try to teach them to think like mathematicians" A mathematician's only option is to connect some prior knowledge to help solve the problem at hand. This is how they'll learn new things best.

    Positive vibes sent for your friend.

  3. I too work with an awesome co-teacher who supports what I do and then follows up with our struggling students. There is a 23 year difference in our ages but after coming back from a 16 year hiatus of being the main teacher in the classroom it was fabulous to have someone to bounce ideas off of. We have both learned from each other. She will be moving at the end of the year (getting married to a pilot) so I admit I am not looking forward to what you are experiencing. My main focus of teaching is to give everyone a positive experience in math, to value a variety of methods to solve problems, and to enjoy my students as people. If students sense you care about them, they will go the extra mile for you in most cases.

    1. Lori has a daughter my age and she likes to remind me of this fact frequently. It's great to compare perspectives and work with someone who has a different background to balance me.

  4. Thank you sharing your story, it's very emotional.