Co-teaching Relationship: Success vs. Failure

The co-teaching relationship between you and your co-teacher, or better yet, the chemistry, is the chief element that can dictate success or failure in the classroom. Sounds a bit harsh, or too rigid, too black and white, though, doesn’t it?

Handshake meetingWell, it’s all perspective, but ultimately you come to Korea to do a job and do it well. You will be your biggest evaluator, and teaching is a profession that gives you instant feedback on your performance. In fact, every class is your stage which you are performing on, the students are your audience and your co-teacher is your co-star.

You’ll either feel the affection from the standing ovation or hear the figurative crickets in the room. A true connection with the audience requires chemistry between the co-stars. So let’s talk about it.

What is co-teaching?

Simply put, it’s you and a KT (Korean teacher) teaching together in the same classroom. It’s kind of a foreign concept to us foreigners (speaking for Americans at least), because we didn’t have that in language classes growing up. The closest I can think to that is having a Teacher’s Assistant to my college professors, and that was definitely not the same thing.

How do you co-teach?

In your pre and on-site orientations, EPIK instills the idea that co-teaching is a shared classroom between the two teachers. They do also show you that it can go a number of ways:

  • KT-led: The KT takes charge and directs the lesson, while the NT (Native Teacher) assists.
  • NT-led: Reverse the roles of above.
  • KT/NT led: Equally shared responsibilities. This is obviously most ideal situation and most successful.

At its basic form, teaching consists of speaking to the class, monitoring the students’ performance and behavior, directing activities/games, and calling on students to perform. Co-teaching is just both teachers sharing those duties.

My experience: Good co-teaching characteristics and frustrations

I have 5 co-teachers across 2 middle schools (3 at School A and 2 at School B). I’ll get straight to the point, 3 I adore teaching with, the other 2 might as well not even be in the classroom. Seeing how poor those 2 are is what really made me realize the importance of a good co-teacher.

The truth is that even as interested as the kids may be in you, the unique foreign teacher, they don’t all speak or understand English well. You’re going to lose some or many of them if they can’t understand you. You can speak slowly, use gestures, pictures, and simple slideshows, but there come those moments when the KT’s presence is necessary to the kids understanding and interest in the lesson.

A good co-teacher doesn’t have to be old and experienced. My youngest co-teacher (2 years younger than I) is my best one, and coincidentally, my oldest is my worst. A good co-teacher has awareness, good timing, stands in front the classroom with you, and doesn’t even need to see your lesson beforehand to know how to help.

The lessons aren’t rocket science, and all the KT needs to do is realize what parts may be challenging for the students and use those opportunities to chime in, help, re-teach and reinforce. These are more humane characteristics than any true learned skill. If you see someone struggling with something, help them out (be that the NT or the students).

My best co-teachers bounce back and forth teaching with me in the lesson in a very fluid manner. They speak English to the class, translate when necessary (especially game instructions), get involved in the activities, and move around.

Those lessons are a joy, and I know going into them, that I’ll have a partner to help me. In return, the students respond better to me, and I have better relationships with some of those classes.

Unfortunately, the flipside of that is having co-teachers who are non-existent in the classroom, stand in the back, don’t chime in when the kids are struggling, or wait for me to ask them for help. The result of that is kids showing disinterest, boredom, and sleeping in my class. I feel such a disconnect from some of those students due to this.

Final thoughts

When you have a good co-teacher, your lessons feel more free, you laugh more, the kids laugh more, you show more of your personality and they are endeared to you. For those that aren’t good, you have to learn to make simpler lessons which are still fun and that you can lead on your own.

If the teacher helps, then it’s an added benefit. Eventually, you become numb to it, and it makes you independent. Ultimately, you will succeed as you continuously refine your lessons for each class’ style.

Do you have a co-teacher in your class? What have been your experiences of having a co-teacher in your classroom? Let us know in the comments section below. 

Kenneth ParrisKenneth is a Travel and Teaching Blogger. Kenneth began his ESL teaching adventure in Prague, Czech Republic before his far east journey to the ROK (Republic of Korea), better known as, South Korea. You can call him an avid traveler or a dedicated teacher, but the title he’s most proud of is “Bonafide Foodie.” Always seeking the signature tastes of other cultures is a true passion, and he’s got pictures to prove it. Ultimately, however, Kenneth’s main goal is to share those real personal teaching and travel experiences that YOU can relate to. 

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