Friday, October 13
I've long recognized that one of the ways I am suited to academia is what a friend once called "high solitude needs." Given such solitude needs, spending days in relative quiet, reading and writing often suits me quite well.

At the same time, academia sometimes demands what is for me excess solitude. To be sure, the scope conditions of "excess" are shaped by life circumstances external to my work (e.g., I am, as of late, getting used to being single for the first time in a long while...). However, in general, it is not uncommon for me to check my email (too often!) or read the newspaper online when I'm supposed to be writing, in search of human contact (however virtual) and/or ideas other than my own.

When I began teaching, I thought that classroom time would probably so tap my extroversion quotient that excess solitude would no longer be a problem. As it turns out - and as I should've known! - facilitating seminars (even really interesting seminars! even seminars with smart graduate students!) is not the same as meaningful and intellectually stimulating social interaction with ones peers.

This is not to whine, however, as a really wonderful solution to this conundrum seems to be emerging. Specifically, a small group of the faculty in my department have begun experimenting with different modes of co-teaching. At an informal level, we are guest lecturing in each other's classes. We also are experimenting with occasionally combining our smaller classes and tag-team teaching them. At a formal level, we are setting up courses that we will co-teach over a year or more, with each of us counting the course towards our teaching load on a rotating basis.

I am really excited about this. Selfishly, it's both interpersonally and intellectually fantastic for me. I have great colleagues and now I both think with and teach with them far more than I would otherwise (prepping for class has never been so deeply interesting!)! Moreover, thus far, our students seem really excited about the more engaged, more interactive mode of learning that becomes possible when 2 or 3 faculty are co-leading classes. Even if they don't fully get the synergy that so excites me, I think they realize also that they are getting "2 (or more) for the price of 1" and are happy for more interaction with faculty. Also, we are having fun...and what's more contagious than fun?

So, I'd be really curious to hear of any ways y'all have experimented with co-teaching...successes, elations, frustrations, failures, ideas not yet implemented?

Thanks...and happy weekend!


thistle said...

I had a really great experience with co-teaching last year. I've been a TA a bunch of times before, but this time, my advisor treated it like co-teaching. It was a small graduate seminar. We would take turns prepping for class, then talk over the plans for class, which usually involved both of us leading at different times during the seminar. Then, after class, we would talk through the decisions we made (why did you skip that topic? why did you decide to open that up for discussion early?). I got to hear her thinking and decision-making processes while she was teaching, which was an amazing experience. We also had the students doing weekly memos, and we would each comment on the memos, and then read each others' comments before returning the memos to the students.

The whole thing was an incredible apprenticeship for me. I learned so much more than in a normal TA experience. But I think it was also fun for my advisor, because we got to engage in great conversations about the material before and after classes. I think she enjoyed being able to work over the readings with someone who was also experienced with the material, instead of limiting conversation to what was best for the students in the class.

The down side to all this bliss? It took like 3 times the amount of time it would have taken for her to teach the class alone.

I also took a class that my advisor co-taught with another professor that was a total disaster. The other professor was clearly unprepared and would hijack the class discussion and guest speakers for her own needs (she was writing a book on the topic). So I've seen co-teaching be great and I've also seen in be totally crappy.

Orange Ina said...

Apologies for being late to this discussion. It's an interesting undertaking, Twilight, and I'll be curious how it works out long term.

As Thistle's note suggests and as I suspected, it may take tons more time to work things this way. That said, IF it makes it that much more valuable and enjoyable then it may well be worth it.

I don't have experience with this, but I'd be too concerned about the time ramifications to implement it, I'm afraid. Perhaps I'll do it later in my career.