By: Ross Chakrian
I work in a school district that is very large. Maryland is a state that aligns their school districts with their counties. I’ve never quite understood why this is, but ever since I came to Maryland for my undergrad degree, I’ve always noticed that people seem to identify where they are from by their county rather than their town. With my school district being so large (76 schools, 56,000 students), it is no surprise that we have a lot of PE teachers (a little over 200 as of last year) to meet district policy mandates in place for PE. I can only speak for the elementary side of things where I teach, but it is a true rarity for their to be only 1 PE teacher in a school. Obviously, the number of PE teachers in a school is dependent on student enrollment numbers. As of last school year, elementary PE staffing per building in my district ranged from 1.0 – 2.8 PE teachers. My current school is toward the higher end of that range; we are staffed at 2.4 PE teachers for the coming year. I am full time, I have another full time co-worker that I have been teaching with for the past 7 years and there is also a part-timer that is with us 2 days a week. For as long as I have been teaching at my current school, our part-timer has rarely been the same from one year to the next, but thanks to the consistency of my full-time co-worker and myself from year to year, our program has been able to grow and gain a lot of value within our school community.
For the past 7 years, we have used a co-teaching model in our classes mainly out of necessity. Due to our high enrollment numbers, the need for 90 minutes of PE per week per student within the schedule and the lack of alternative space, we are often “doubled” in the gym (2 classes, 60 students and 2 PE teachers) during most teaching blocks of the day. Co-teaching for us consisted of one of us taking the lead for that particular teaching block while the other was more of a “floater” that would assist with equipment set up, transitions, organization, feedback distribution, etc. Our roles would then switch for the next teaching block. This is a style that has worked for us in the past.
I am fortunate that to date, I haven’t been in a position where I feel as though I have had to co-exist with one of my PE coworkers. My full time colleague has been great to work with over the years. We share the same kind of teaching philosophy and vision for our students and program. We compliment each other well and maximize one another’s strengths. For example, she is extremely organized and has great systems in place for running our big PE related school events, such as Jump Rope for Heart and Field Day, while I put my creativity into practice by handling most of the equipment building, resource making and planning from week to week. She is a problem solver that is great at figuring out scheduling/logistics while I use my outspoken nature to advocate for our students and program to get what I believe we deserve. I feel comfortable saying that we have each learned a lot from one another to enhance our teaching practices and ultimately, to enhance the experience our students are getting during PE. This type of positive coworker relationship is true of most of the relationships that I have had with the part-timers I have worked with over the years as well.
However, based on conversations with people that I have had both in person and on Twitter, I have come to realize this type of relationship is not the same for everyone out there teaching PE…there are plenty of instances where PE teachers within the same building, for whatever reason, are doing more co-existing than co-teaching. From stories I have heard of others, this mindset of co-existence in some cases is due to differing teaching philosophies, differing management styles, differing levels of engagement in the profession, amongst other things. This then leads to these coworkers separating at most times during the day, during teaching periods and off periods, because of these differences. A theme that I noticed in most of these co-existence teaching situation stories that I have heard was that there was often one teacher more so than the other willing to take initiative, take risks, try new things and implement best practices, while most times, the other teacher in question was just happy with the “status-quo”. I wish this observation could be attributed to be something more of an outlier rather than a theme, but with it presenting itself across the stories of people I truly respect within our profession, I would say that “theme” is the truest way to describe co-existence teaching situations.
I am in no position to tell others how to do their job, but at the end of the day, to me, the co-teaching vs. co-existing debate boils down to one essential question; are you doing what is best for YOUR students? If you are in a healthy co-teaching relationship where you are comfortable with your students being exposed to the quality teachings of either yourself or your co-worker, I am truly happy for you. Like I mentioned earlier, I have this type of relationship with my co-worker. One piece of advice I would give you is to not take it for granted. Continue to work together, push one another and keep your students at the forefront of all the decisions you make together regarding your program.
If you are currently in a type of co-existence relationship with a co-worker, I would first implore you to try and work out your differences. I realize that reconciling these differences is probably much easier said than done. If this fails (and it very well might), realize that you can’t control what coworkers believe, despite your likely many attempts to help them realize that “status quo” is not good enough for their students/our profession as a whole. You have a responsibility to the students on YOUR roster first and foremost and because of that, there might be some teaching situations where separating classes is doing what is best for your students. I could totally understand why a passionate/enthusiastic teacher who believes in best practice would want to separate their students from a situation in which they might otherwise be under the influence of a coworker who is the antithesis of these qualities. Surround yourself with positive influences within your professional learning network and do what you know is best for your kids.
As we enter the new school year, I urge you to take some time to think about this in your situation. I wish you a rewarding and successful start to the 2017-2018 school year. Make it the best one yet!