Thursday, November 03, 2005

Cooperation

We and I did our micro-teach today. I'm glad we did it together, if for purely selfish reasons: it's nice to have more time. But it made me think about the advantages and difficulties related to team-teaching.

Cooperation is hard. It has obvious benefits: for example, by pooling our time we both had 40 minutes to work with instead of just 20. And it allows for a more favorable teacher/ student ratio; the students get more attention from the teachers. From the students' point of view, multiple sources of feedback are better than just one.

But I'm not good at cooperating. I like being in control. Even when we were planning the activity, I already had an idea of how I wanted it to go. My partner had some really good ideas, and often after she'd offered an alternative, the ideal plan in my head would switch to conform to her suggestion. But when I disagreed with any suggestion of hers, I wanted to be able to simply reject it outright-- and when you're working in a team, you simply have to concede things that you'd rather not.

This came up again in the group discussion at the end of class: I knew where I wanted the discussion to go, and found myself resisting my partner's attempts to steer it in a different direction. Rather than either sit back and let her lead, or else encourage the direction she was taking the conversation, I found myself once or twice trying to regain control and steer it elsewhere.

It's definitely something I need to work on. As a white male, I'm frankly used to getting my way. I also need to be sensitive to the fact that, depending on cultural background, people in a team with me will acquiesce too easily; I need to find ways to really encourage and give fair weight to their ideas, and to be ready to spend a good part of class-time as the assistant, while my partner controls the direction of the class.

Obviously this depends. In ASE, for example, many of the team-taught classes have some kind of hierarchy: there's a teacher, and there are several assistants. While a good teacher will give the assistants plenty of freedom and allow them to have input in the way the class is managed, that teacher is still in charge: responsible to make sure class goes well, and to blame when it doesn't.

Perhaps it's good to have this hierarchy. If, for example, we had agreed ahead of time that my partner was in charge and I was the assistant, I would have been more willing to agree with ideas that I didn't like: the buck stops with her. By default, I think it turned out to be basically the reverse: when I didn't feel like she was teaching the way I thought appropriate, I kind of wrested control from her, and she ended up with more of an assistant's role. If that hierarchy had been agreed upon ahead of time, I suppose it would have been OK. But as is, I simply didn't treat her as my equal. And this is bad.

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