This semester, I am team-teaching a course. There are many things I like about team-teaching, especially if I like the person with whom I am team-teaching and if the technical aspects of the class (e.g., constructing the syllabus, grading, managing the course webpage) are evenly divided.
In my department, we are supposed to attend all the classes in a team-taught course, not just the ones we are actually teaching. The main reasons for this relate to the hypothesis that this provides the best educational experience for the students.
In addition, in theory, if we fully participate in a team-taught class, we get 'credit' for teaching 0.75 of a class rather than 0.5. This is meaningless in my department, where teaching loads are not strictly assigned, but that's OK with me. I would rather have a flexible system than a rigid one that counted teaching loads down to a fraction of a class.
Some challenges of team-teaching include the following:
1. You and your colleague have very different teaching styles. Similarly, there might be a significant disparity in grading philosophy, accessibility to students, and/or ability to communicate.
At my previous university, I used to teach the second half of a course. The first half was taught by someone I liked a lot as a colleague, but who was very fierce with undergraduates. He was in fact quite scary in class. By the time it was my turn to teach the class, after Spring Break, the students were terrified, hostile, or both. It took them a week or two to realize that I wasn't going to yell at them or tell them they were stupid. I was very nervous about this course because I was an assistant professor and my co-teacher was a full professor, but he respected my teaching and we had some constructive conversations about how we could both improve our teaching of this class.
Some of my most positive experiences with team-teaching have been with graduate courses, perhaps because of the more flexible format of these courses and the fact that I team-taught with very compatible colleagues.
2. You have to teach with a truly loathsome colleague. The incident I described above involved teaching with a difficult but not loathsome colleague. Teaching with a loathsome colleague has only happened to me once and it was very unpleasant. The colleague with whom I was team-teaching exhibited some creepy behavior towards female students and did not respect either the content or style of the classes I taught. He made no secret of his contempt for me, and after many of my lectures, he would slither to the front of the classroom and make some remark about what I had just taught. "How innnnn...terrrr...esting that you taught that concept that way. I have never seen it taught that way. I wouldn't consider doing it that way myself, as the classic way has always worked for me. Do you think the students got anything out of what you just did?"
3. Team-teaching can be as much work/time - or almost as much work/time - as teaching the class yourself. Team-teaching adds some complexities to the logistics of teaching, but you won't really know what these are and how much time they will take until you've taught with a particular person a time or two.
Sometimes team-teaching can take more time than you think it will. A few years ago, my department chair asked me for ideas about how 'we' could help a younger colleague who was struggling with teaching. This colleague had been assigned to teach a large class the following term, and the chair was concerned about how that would go. I had taught the course many times, so I offered to team-teach it with my colleague. I thought that by teaching the course together, I'd be helping my younger colleague have a less stressful semester, and I thought it might be interesting working together on a course. I don't actually know if this would have worked or whether it would have been more stressful for my colleague. I never got to find out because, although I was already teaching another course that semester, the department chair decided that if I had time to team-teach, I had time to teach the entire course myself. He gave the struggling teacher a break from teaching and loaded me with an extra course.
Team-teaching is a great way that faculty with different fields of expertise can together create an interesting course and provide a dynamic learning environment for students. When it works, it's great. When it doesn't, it's grisly.
7 months ago