Teams Work!

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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.

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“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.

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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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