Thoughts on Team Teaching

Editor’s Note: Though posted by the editor, this is a post written by Thomas Sneed.

Last spring, my library proposed an introductory legal research class for our law school’s graduate degree students.  During the approval process, it was decided that this would be a summer class with a start date only a few weeks after final approval.  One of the first questions: who would teach the class?  We decided to try a team teaching approach with one experienced instructor (yours truly) and another librarian with no experience teaching a for-credit class.  The class was popular with the students, and we covered all the expected subjects. You wonder, “How did the team teaching aspect go?”

I found the following to be the biggest takeaways from the experience:

Team teaching will take time to master.  We were already behind with preparation due to a late approval for the class.  We had started some preliminary work but were waiting for a final word to really get going.  Therefore, we only had a limited number of meetings to hash out content and determine best practices for the class.  If you are planning to team teach a course, it is strongly advised to start planning as early as possible.  It will give everyone more time to work out the kinks while also getting a sense of each other’s instructional methods.

Looking back, this compressed schedule may not have been the best time to try the team teaching approach.  I know we made mistakes.  I also know that we learned from those mistakes, and it will be a positive influence on our future classroom endeavors.  But keep in mind that you will not be an expert at team teaching after just one attempt.

Make sure each instructor is on the same page.  While we may have been pushed for time in preparation, we were still able to have a cohesive voice for the classroom.  We knew what was going to be covered during our given sessions.  And if one of us would have needed to miss a class, the other could have easily taken those notes/handouts/power points and managed the class.

One tip in this area—it may be best for one person to handle communications for the group.  This can range from e-mails to adding content to any class management system.  Coordinate responses, and then have one person reply.  It will help in avoiding confusion.

Try not to be a dominant voice.  This was the difficult one for me.  I was accustomed to being the only instructor in the classroom and answering all of the questions posed by the students.  This is obviously not the case in a team teaching situation.  I found myself ready to answer everything and speaking too much instead of letting the other instructor respond.  Remember that there is another highly competent librarian in the room who can provide just as good a response and possibly even a better perspective.

Would I team teach again?  Without a doubt. But I would do a few things differently, and can’t we say that about all of our instructional experiences?

Additional resources on team teaching:

“Team/Collaborative Teaching,” Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University.

“Benefits and Costs of Team Teaching: Experience from an Interdisciplinary Collaboration,” Maureen J. Lage and B. Kay Snavely.

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