Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Team teaching is teh awesome!!1!!!

So I'm team-teaching a small seminar. We spent all summer and a little bit of fall planning this class because when you have to run everything by your co-instructor, everything takes twice as long. No, even longer -- it has an exponential effect, since the co-instructor might have to read something first to decide whether it will work in the class, or even if it's a simple question, they have to get your e-mail and respond to it. None of this deciding on your late-paper policy as you put the syllabus together at 2am the night before the first class business! I even wrote up a sketch of a lesson plan ahead of time for every day I'll be teaching this semester so that my partner won't be going in blind. And in this case we come from two different disciplines -- theater and literature -- so we do things differently, in terms of both our approaches to drama and to classroom policies, assignments, etc. That's supposed to be the *point* of team-teaching -- bringing these approaches together -- but it still makes the logistics more complicated. (If it sounds a bit like I'm dominant in the class, I am. But that's because he's directing a production related to the class, for which I'm the dramaturg, and so that's where he's the boss. And also, I've taught a class on the topic multiple times and he hasn't.)

But since neither of us had done this before, we weren't exactly sure how it was all going to come together, and in the first week of classes there was still some fine-tuning, especially since on those days we were sharing the time. (Starting this week we alternate days. More on the awesomeness of that in a minute.)

On the first day of class one of the students asked what the benefit of team-teaching was. We gave him some canned answers about interdiscplinarity and multiple points of view and learning from each other, since, after all, we hadn't done this before. But now, even after only three classes together, I can already see the benefits and the canned answers don't sound like empty boilerplate eduspeak any more. We are already learning from each other, and presumably the students are learning more from both of us than they would from just one of us. He's got a much broader knowledge of theater history than I do; I'm a medieval-early modern gal, and know England much better than the continent. That said, I have a deeper knowledge of the language, literature, and socio-economic culture of the period of English drama that we're studying. He's also a director and dramaturg, so he brings practical production knowledge to the class. In fact, that's our organizing principal for the class -- we're studying these plays in their historical contexts (textual, literary, social/cultural, and performance contexts) *and* thinking about how to perform them now. Although this is an oversimplification, I'm "then" and he's "now."

And it works beautifully together. Case in point: yesterday, I was getting students to notice the symbolic significance of movement and space in the play we were reading. And then I got them to talk about how bodies and physicality matter thematically to the play. And then we talked about gender. After class, my co-instructor noticed a way to connect the gender issues to the movement issues in a way I hadn't and it sparked his ideas for what he's going to do in class on Thursday.

And the fact that I have one less class to prep for Thursdays for most of the rest of the semester (except during tech week of the production, when I'll take over for my swamped co-instructor on both days) is suh-weet! But lest there's some troll out there thinking, "Hey, my tax money is paying her salary and she's not working!" let me remind you that we spent all freakin' summer (when we *weren't* paid) putting this all together. So the time was simply displaced. (Plus, I have plenty of other paid work to fill it, including putting together a handbook for department graduate directors, since I'll be on sabbatical next year and have, up until now, kept everything in my head. Yeah, not good. But that's a subject for another post.) And I still have to do the reading he's assigned for his days, and I still come to class, which I am looking forward to with great enthusiasm, for -- hooray! -- I get to be a student once a week! How fun!

But one of the coolest little surprises of the semester so far is that we have great co-teacher timing. We don't jump into each others' presentations or discussion leading often, but when we do, it reinforces what the other is doing. And we seem to have great dorky comic chemistry, too. (Yes, the students are laughing, too. Well, most of the time.) For instance, yesterday, we were discussing a play with a rather strange anal fixation. All or most of that embodiment I was asking the students to pay attention to kept coming back to the ass (or arse, actually -- it's an English play, after all). So we got to talking about farts and fart jokes in the play and one of the students wondered if it told us something about audience, on the theory that physical humor and "toilet" humor appealed only to the less educated. I gave the student my skeptical look and my co-instructor and I had the following exchange, totally deadpan:

Me: I like fart jokes. Fart jokes are hilarious. (looking at co-instructor) What about you?
Co-instructor: Love them. Can't get enough of them.
Me: And I have a Ph.D. And you?
Co-instructor: Me, too. Ph.D.
Me: But seriously....

And then I started giving a potted history of the fart joke in English literature (no, really) and talking about how the idea of "low" humor is a culturally contingent thing and how "less educated" is a difficult or different thing to talk about for the Middle Ages, anyway. And my co-instructor talked about farts on the stage up through the 19th century (no, really), including a French performer who used to perform entire songs via fart for wealthy and cultured audiences (seriously, not making this up). And we hadn't planned *any* of that. And yet the whole performance went off as if it was a well-practiced routine. It was awesome.

And that's the other thing that this class is doing for me: it's bringing my teaching energy back. In my other classes, even though I'm changing the content and the methods, as well as the assignments, all the time, it's still my shtick I'm doing. And frankly, I'm sick of me -- or classroom persona me, anyway. I *really* need that sabbatical I've applied for. (This, btw, is the great benefit of sabbaticals to *students*. We need a real break from teaching to keep it fresh and effective. Summers help, but they're too short to really recoup and by the end of them -- or in the case of the team-taught course, all through them -- we're thinking about teaching again.) After last semester I thought this one was going to feel like a death march. But the team-taught course is re-energizing me, and as luck has it, my Middle English course comes later in the day, so I can go into that a little more hyped up and enthusiastic. (Oh, and also, I seemed to have no problem students so far, knock wood -- not even the one I thought would be a problem.)

So if you have the opportunity to team-teach something, and it's in load (in my case, happily, it is) or you can handle the overload, I highly recommend it. Well, at least for now, in the second week of classes! I'll keep you posted if the honeymoon phase wears off!

Edited to add this PS: Also, my co-instructor is bigger hard-ass on deadlines, plagiarism, etc. I always try to present myself as one, but then I usually show mercy. So I don't pursue plagiarism to the dean, but give an F on an assignment. And I'll take a late assignment under conditions not listed on the syllabus. But not co-instructor! So yay! *He* can be bad cop!


Susan said...

I team taught an interdisciplinary class with an American lit colleague last semester. Not only was it great fun (and when a personal crisis came up, he could cover), I read stuff I should have read years ago, and we we were able to do awesome dialogues (though nothing as awesome as your riff on fart jokes). When I had read his book, and I proceeded to say, "What is really interesting in terms of interdisciplinary work is the different way I'd think with these problems...." And he'd say similar things about historians...

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Love this post (and Susan's comment). I've always been hesitant to team-teach, and I know it's because I'm such a control freak. The fact that you two are getting so much out of it says good things about your character.

Dr. Virago said...

Notorious - I think splitting up the days helps me keep the control-freak aspect in check. I get to be a control freak on my days, and he can be a control freak on his days. Though I have to say that in our situation, I think he's more than happy to have me be the boss of the class since he has the production to worry about.

Horace said...

Sooooooo jealous. a) that you get to team teach with a theatre person while contributing to a production b) that you don't have to pick up an extra course to do it (We have no teaching allotment for team-teaching), and c) that your co-teacher can bring in Le Petomane into regular class discussion.

I feel so much better about the "putt yowr nose in hys wyffys sokett" line in Mankynde now!

Bardiac said...

Sounds fabulous! I hope you'll tell us more as the semester goes on.

Dr. Virago said...

Le Petomane! Yes! Thanks for reminding of the French fart-artist's name! (Obviously I blanked on it when writing the post.)

As for the load issue, here it's negotiated with the chair of the department and my chair counted the class as in my load.

Flavia said...

Man, that sounds fabulous! But count me among the jealous--my pre-modern colleague (who does biblical and classical studies) and I had dreamed up a course to team teach that we were both jazzed about, but we weren't able to get sufficient release time for it--we teach 3/3, and we'd have to teach the class TWICE, as a fourth class for each of us, both times, before getting a course-release in a subsequent term (like, three years down the line)!

So, none of that for me right now. . . but I'll happily rejoice in your good fortune, and look forward to more updates as the term goes on.

I Got an "A" in Crazy Beeyotch said...

I'm glad to hear you're being re-energized, after having what sounded like a difficult semester or two. You're right--summers really aren't long enough to rejuvenate (and they're filled with lots of school work). The course sounds exciting!

I just hope you still do--and always do-- your "genetive of time" dance.

What Now? said...

Wow, that sounds fabulous, both for the students and for you and your co-instructor. Glad to hear you're finding it an intellectually and pedagogically rejuvenating experience -- we all need those every once in awhile!