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Teams Work!

Kate Holburn

Team teaching is half the work, double the fun. It's giving students a fuller picture because you literally have two painters. Where one leaves an empty canvas, the other can fill in.

"I give up; it's your turn," Denise silently seemed to say before taking my place at the craft table. A few minutes later I was able to coax Kimmie -- planted in a self-exiled corner -- into rejoining the group.

That's one benefit of team teaching -- simply having more than one adult to handle a child or crisis that could disrupt a class. Team teaching has these other benefits for students and teachers.

Safety -- Having two or more teachers in a classroom reduces the possibility of molestation or false accusations that can devastate a volunteer.

"It's protection for the children, #1; but it's also protection for the teacher," says John Cionca, professor of Christian education and pastoral ministry at Bethel College in Arden Hills, Minnesota.

Brian Schanil, associate pastor at Roseville Covenant Church in Vadnais Heights, Minnesota, agrees. "We have a two-adult rule," Schanil says. "I feel more comfortable knowing there are two adults in a classroom, and I don't need to monitor as closely just from a safety standpoint."

Support -- But safety's just one advantage of team teaching, Schanil points out. "We have some teams where one person takes the bulk of the teaching or presenting. The other person is the support. He or she may be watching and picking up signals that the presenter may be too busy to notice. From the students' standpoint, it's great; you have more people there to be attuned to the students' needs."

Complementary gifts -- Schanil loves it when he successfully pairs two totally different personalities. "They play off of each other. They interact with each other as well as with the students. They bring, from their own life experiences, different approaches. It's giving students a fuller picture because you literally have two painters. Where one leaves an empty canvas, the other can fill in."

Cionca says children need teachers with differing temperaments. "You may have one who's more outgoing and one who's more reserved; some who love music and some who prefer creative writing. We're offering children, who are all different, a variety of ways to learn the same lesson."

"If you've taught in a team, you really like teaching that way," adds Schanil. "In some ways it's a relief to know you're not the only adult in a class."

But not all teams work effectively. Teachers with radically different teaching styles may not work well together. And people with the same style can hinder each other.

During my second and third years of team teaching, for instance, my team member wasn't interested in preparing much ahead of time -- and neither was I. We'd spend five minutes on the phone each Saturday night, then I'd race around the house looking for story props. Or I'd have to run out to a store to find craft items.

I found out that, although we both had definite strengths, we had the same weakness: disorganization.

Denise, my current team teacher, is very organized. She makes sure we meet once every month or so to plan four to five lessons ahead. That's helped me eliminate frantic Saturday night prep and become a better teacher.

"If you want to prepare your lesson on Saturday night, you better not be working with a team teacher or she'll have your hide," Schanil says. "You have to be organized to be in an effective team."

Consistency -- Team teaching can also help keep teacher absenteeism from distressing a class, says Cionca. A case in point: One year my team teacher had health problems and needed a few weeks off to recuperate. My husband filled in, and our students were satisfied as long as one of their "real" teachers was there. And when either partner isn't available to teach one Sunday, the other asks a spouse or friend for help.

Teaching in teams also keeps Schanil's teachers from deviating from the curriculum. "They're accountable to each other as well as to me," he says.

Recruiting and retention -- "Team teaching makes for easier recruiting," says Schanil. Some teams are formed by friends wanting to spend time together. Other teams are formed and friendships follow.

Denise and I didn't know each other when we were asked to teach together. Now we find we need twice the prep time so we can catch up on each other's lives. We enjoy a fellowship that otherwise wouldn't have been formed.

"Team teaching also helps retention; you have less staff turnover in churches that use team teaching well vs. churches that let teachers be isolated with children," Cionca says. "Compared to tag-team wrestling, there's no one to tag. It's like you're the one with the workload all the time. When teachers are by themselves, they're teaching the story every week; coming up with methods every week. It's just a lot more difficult and less effective for the child. The fewer the choices, the harder to keep kids' interest."


Fae Holin is a Sunday school teacher in Roseville, Minnesota.

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