This post fits in the Things they forgot to teach you at your TEFL training school category of TEFL.
When new teachers of English as a foreign language imagine their first job posting, they may picture themselves teaching in all kinds of scenarios: Large university classes, one-to-one coaching sessions, and small groups. But they might not imagine that they’d have a partner teacher.
Many jobs that require native English teachers abroad (particularly in China, often in Thailand and Japan) are actually recruiting you to be the second half of a teaching team made up of a local teacher partnered with a native speaker.
When a team teaching situation is good, it creates a supportive, interesting environment for your students where they have not only one but two language experts to guide them to better English.
But, when the situation is not handled well, it creates a too-many-cooks situation that impacts the students negatively.
Here are my six tips for turning your team teaching experience into an educational powerhouse that will benefit your students, and your own career:
1. Communicate with your teammate. This is a simple step, but the easiest step to foul up. Your partner teacher may be extremely busy due to a larger class-load than yours or additional responsibilities within the school. The partner may be insecure about his or her English abilities or be worried that the students will like you more because you’re new and exotic. The partner may assume you already know what to do, when in fact you’re hoping they will train you. There could be a whole stewing pot of school office politics that you don’t know about when you start your new job. Because of all of these factors, I recommend that you, as the newcomer, be available and persistent about talking to your team teacher. If you can nail down nothing else, you especially need to be clear about how to divide classroom duties, such as homework assignments and discipline issues.
2. Cooperate with your teammate. If they ask you to take on additional responsibilities in the classes that you share or to help them in other ways, be receptive to their requests. Your students will notice if there is a strained relationship between the two of you and it can worsen the classroom dynamic. If your co-teacher asks you to do something that you absolutely will not do, try to negotiate and take cultural differences into account when you deny their request.
3. Plan Ahead. If lesson planning is important when you’re the sole teacher, it’s even more vital when you’re part of a team. The students will notice if you have not planned out how the two teachers will share responsibilities. Find time to sit down with your teammate and plan. Look ahead to special cases—holidays, testing periods—when you know that one or the other of you will need to shoulder more responsibility so that surprise duties don’t get thrust upon you unexpectedly.
4. Respect your teammate. Don’t change a pre-agreed plan at the spur of the moment. Don’t contradict him or her in front of students. Don’t forget that, even though they may not be a native speaker of English, they’ve probably earned all kinds of degrees and qualifications in their home country—ones that you haven’t. Don’t forget that you may be making more money, as a native speaker, for doing essentially the same job that they do. Remember also that they were there before you and will likely be there long after you have left.
5. Have a “Buddy” Mentality. If your partner can’t do something, it’s up to you to pick up the slack and keep up a friendly relationship. Create a dynamic where they will help you out as well when needed. Try not to let ego or cultural differences get in the way—you’re a team, you’re buddies, and you’ve got each other’s back.
6. Put the Students First. At the end of the day, the school or institution you work for hired you to educate students, not to get involved in a complicated dance of responsibilities with your team teacher. If all else fails, remember that you are there to serve the students. Rethink your problems with an eye to helping the students. What can you do, personally, to help the students achieve their goals of speaking better English, and how can you do that as part of the team?
Ted’s Tips #1: Put the students first. Your job is to help the students learn English. Do that above all else.
Ted’s Tips #2: Smile. Be warm and open to discussion with your team teacher. Working with a native speaker may be a nerve-wracking experience for him or her, and you should do your best to put them at ease and build a positive relationship.