Here’s a rough overview of how teams work at my high school. Each content area team—for me that’s Algebra 1 and Algebra 2—meets together once a week to discuss what’s going on, walk through the lessons for the week, and work out any pacing issues. During the week, we partner with another teacher to co-plan a lesson. Because of modified block schedules, each content area pair plans for about one class period each week. I only need to be creative and insightful once a week for each different prep!
I looked forward to this moment for over a decade. Now that it’s here, I find the transition harder than I expected. It’s not quite clearly defined how much freedom I have to deviate from the group lesson. We keep all the classes on the same pacing. This means all Algebra 1 classes teach the same lesson on the same day. That’s really new to me. I’m used to doing whatever I feel like whenever I feel like it. Granted, the lessons in my new school aren’t handed down to us from on high. Our teams create them. However, it’s really hard to teach someone else’s lesson.
I feel unsure about how much room I have to modify the lesson to make it my own. Can I rearrange the order of the lesson? Can I substitute out examples? If so, how many? Can I scrap the way they approach it and come the learning target from a different angle? But if I do that it starts to feel like I’m off doing my own thing and not part of a team. And, if I modify every lesson, I start losing the time-saving benefits of being part of a team. I also struggle with how to ask the modification question in a way that doesn’t make it seem like I think the lesson my teammates created is trash. Just like wearing someone else’s clothes feels strange, teaching someone else’s lessons feels...uncomfortable. It's just off.
This transition to a different way of teaching also brings up some of my professional insecurities. I come to this position with lots of ideas for how things should be approached: technology, classroom setup, lesson ideas. It’s unreasonable for me to bring all my ideas to a group of people who don’t know me from Adam and expect them to incorporate all of it into how they normally do things. I get a seat at the table but I don’t get to take over the conversation. I get that… but I really like some of these lessons. What if they don’t want to do them? My ego is having trouble even before they’ve said ‘no’. I’ve invested so much blood sweat and tears pushing my teaching in this direction that it’s hard to step back and try another way.
The types of lessons I teach and how I approach concepts are, in some sense, a professional identity issue. I see myself as a certain “type” of teacher. It’s taken me a lot of hard work to transition from the type of teacher I was into one that I’m mostly proud of. I like the hands-on approach. I like experiments. I like the mess. The possibility of giving up those previous ways of doing things threatens how I see myself as a teacher. Relying on the people around me for part of my professional reputation is hard. Those types of changes will take some time to get used to.
Giving up some of my independence is hard. It forces me to think of others and not just my own preferences. It forces me to re-evaluate what's important. It forces me rely on other people. That’s how teams work. Deep down, it is what I want.
We are better together. Always. Even if it's hard work.