Diary of a co-teacher, chapter 2: 5 takeaways

It has been several weeks since I cleaned up my classroom and shut the door for summer. With time and space away from my building, I have been able to sit back and truly reflect on what a year it was (yet again).

Like many of you, I spent the majority of the school year teaching under strict pandemic rules and ended it in what most of us would consider normal conditions. It is almost like we had two distinctly different school years. In August, on the first day, when I read aloud Dex, the Heart of a Hero, by Caralyn Buehner, my students were at their seats at least three feet apart. That distance felt like a canyon rather than just a few feet. On the last day in June, we gathered on the rug and I read  Dr. Suess’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go.

Sharing experiences in conjunction with sharing space has been the theme of this school year. Last fall, I wrote the first chapter about my co-teaching journey with my colleague and dear friend, Liz Mutcheson. We each have 20 students in our homerooms, and we collaborate to curate and implement units to meet their needs. We have a movable magnetic whiteboard wall that opens up our two individual spaces into one shared space.

That first post focused on the intentional steps we took toward cultivating the magic of our co-teaching. Now that we have a full year under our belt, I am here to share more about this journey and the results of our first year as Team MutchyFunk.

1. Too many cooks do not spoil the broth

Although Liz and I are the core of Team MutchyFunk, we had a myriad of adults who worked in our classrooms this school year, and we could not have achieved what we did without them.

Sharing experiences in conjunction with sharing space has been the theme of this school year.

In the fall, I had an intern who spent three half-days and one full day in my classroom. We also worked with instructional aides and the special education teacher on our team. Using these adults to maximum capacity was a goal of our co-taught classroom.

Whenever possible, we used these other adults in small groups to create a lower teacher-to-student ratio and meet individual needs. Our interns, aides, and special education teacher supported students in math groups, science and social studies lessons, and reading instruction. When planning our weeks, we would consider the adult support available and strategically maximize the capacity of each one.

2. Absence makes the heart grow fonder

We all know that a teacher absence from school often brings more work and stress. We also know that being absent is inevitable and that in this past year, absences were more frequent and extensive.

For Team MutchyFunk, an absence was less stressful because we knew the other person was there to support the substitute and ensure plans were carried out as intended. For example, in our economics unit for third grade, the culminating activity was called “Market Day.” Students wrote a business plan, created a prototype of a product, built multiple products, and then “sold” them to their classmates and staff members using money named after our school mascot, Cardinal Bucks. These are the kinds of lessons you typically would avoid leaving for a substitute. However, when an absence for Liz coincided with the sequence of this unit, we did not worry. We went ahead as planned.

I was able to support the substitute in understanding the lessons. We opened the wall for product building (which was the plan anyway), and when it came time for a post–market day reflection, we again opened the wall and engaged the class in a shared discussion. On days when I was absent, Liz did the same for me: supported the substitute, checked in with those particular students who needed it, and ensured that lessons continued with minimal disruptions to our unit plans.

3. It takes a village

The expression “It takes a village to raise a child” rings true for the classroom just as much as it does in family lives. This year, our students benefited from the “village” of two teachers (in addition to all the other faculty members who work with our students) to support them in their third-grade journey.

Students need to know they have at least one caring adult they can trust in their school. Our students, hopefully, felt they had at least two.

This was also helpful when students needed a break from our individual classrooms. For example, when students disagreed on something that resulted in an argument, the best solution was to take some space before problem solving. Liz was a trusted adult for my students and provided a space for them to calm down and regain self-control. In Responsive Classroom teaching, we call this strategy a Buddy Teacher: someone who can help a child have the break they need before returning to their learning.

4. Finding the Cristina Yang to my Meredith Grey

I am an avid TV watcher. TV is the way I decompress from the stress of everyday life and teaching.

I enjoy all genres, but one of the components I love most about a good show is the banter between characters. The back and forth of witty comments is one of my favorite things to watch, so it is no wonder that I also love that about my co-teaching relationship. Liz is the Christina Yang to my Meredith Grey (any “Grey’s Anatomy” fans out there?), the Rebecca to my Keeley (any “Ted Lasso” fans?), and the Rachel to my Monica (I don’t have to tell you these are “Friends” characters, right?).

Students need to know they have at least one caring adult they can trust in their school. Our students, hopefully, felt they had at least two.

Banter not only makes our day more fun, but it also helps us be creative and productive. It is through our banter that we curated every single unit we taught this year. It is through our banter that we have written thoughtful and specific report card comments for our students. Our banter gets our creative juices flowing and truly makes us better.

5. The proof is in the pudding: MAP Growth data

As this school year progressed, we had anecdotal data about how effective this co-teaching experience was for both ourselves and our students. We saw the way our students responded to each of us and the joy we experienced from working together. However, the pièce de résistance came with our end-of-year assessments.

Neither one of us believes in teaching to a test (note chapter 1, key 1: a shared philosophy is key), but we also love quantitative data. As we conducted our end-of-year assessments, including MAP® Growth™, we saw how much our students grew. There were students who were able to make more than a year’s growth and bring themselves up to grade level. This type of data not only made us feel effective as educators, but it also validated the journey we are on as co-teachers.

Closing this chapter and starting the next one

I write a precept of the day on my board for my class to discuss each day during Morning Meeting. Most of them come from the book 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Brown’s Book of Precepts, by R.J. Palacio, including this one I used on the last day: “I’ve learned that life is like a book. Sometimes we must close a chapter and begin the next one.”

Chapter 1 of Team MutchyFunk’s journey has closed. We spent a year co-writing every unit in our curriculum, refining our management systems—including how groups flow—and deepening our co-teaching relationship. This process took a great deal of time and care and helped us cultivate an approach we are immensely proud of and love. Next year, that time is freed up. Our units are written, so we can focus our attention on how to adapt them to our specific students. Our systems are in place, so we can begin using them sooner. Most importantly, next year we will get to go to work alongside someone who is both a great colleague and friend; that is something special.

But first, summer. It is time to take a girls’ trip, sip some margaritas by the pool, and relax and recharge so that come fall, we are energized and ready to take Team MutchyFunk into the next chapter of our story.

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