The Case Against Teaming

Team teaching works well in theory. Teachers can plan the curricula in their subjects to support each other. For example, a science lesson in calculating density could be preceded the day before by math lessons on multiplication and division. A social studies unit on the Congress might link with students writing “newspaper articles” for their English class. Students with learning or behavioral problems can be discussed in team meetings to develop a coordinated approach. Parent conferences can be held with all teachers present. Younger teachers can be directed toward a teaching style consistent with that of the team. Middle school students are presented with similar learning environments across all subject areas.

Theories, though, only work in the absence of extraneous circumstances. Teachers are assigned to teams by the administration and will likely have incompatible styles and attitudes. Inevitably these differences may cause disagreements over classroom management procedures. Who will dominate? Does the most senior teacher resolve disputes? Will new teachers be inhibited from experimenting with style? Will they never develop a unique style of their own?  Cooperation works only until one member feels they’ve cooperated too often.

It sounds wonderful to say that each subject will reinforce what is being taught in the others. How does one accomplish that? Which subject leads the scheduling? What if the science teacher needs the students to be able to use scientific notation but the math class isn’t there yet? Must the math teacher rearrange her entire year’s lesson plans? The inevitable result of subordinating subject matter to cross-discipline coordination is that much content is sacrificed. Also, each subject area cannot progress at a natural pace as it must wait for other areas.

And what of the students? Kids interact not with the teacher team but with individual teachers. Jared might respond well to Mr. Wilson and be a good student in his class. Should Mr. Wilson’s feelings toward Jared be tainted by Mrs. Toland’s dislike of him? If Jared is a troublemaker in Mrs. Toland’s class should he be so labeled in the others where he would otherwise not be?

How good is it really for students to have a similar learning environment across classes? Isn’t one of the skills we want our kids to learn is how to adapt to different environments? Each teacher brings his own style and personality to the classroom just as each work environment and boss is different in the adult world.

Yes, a new teacher will feel more secure being helped along by his peers. But, he’ll be less likely to develop his own style, classroom climate and teaching skills.

A parent facing a panel of several teachers is less likely to direct comments at one. Sure, students do have global issues. They also have issues with individual teachers that are only awkwardly discuss in front of the group.

Teaming mutes individuality in both the teachers and the students. It also dilutes the uniqueness of each subject and subordinates each to the achievement of some amorphous goal. Arguments for teaming in the middle school or high school may have rhetorical merit but result in poorer education.

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