Co-taught classes provide support and encouragement to help students be successful

Co-taught classes provide support and encouragement to help students be successful

Junior Abigail Cool loves her second hour class. 

Ringing in as one of her favorite classes, AP Seminar focuses on reading, writing, and presentations. As a brand new class last year, AP Seminar holds many features that are unique to it and only a few others within the walls of FHC.

Besides being a class that focuses on the presenting of essays and research, it is also co-taught by two teachers: English teacher Lisa Penninga and U.S. History teacher Steve Labenz. 

“I think it’s actually better that there are two teachers,” Abigail said. “But, I am maybe a little biased because they are two of the best teachers in our school.”

While Penninga is able to provide her English influence on the class, Labenz complements her with his history perspective. Abigail finds that this combination of insights from both a literary and historical background is very beneficial to her success in the classroom. 

“The advantages [to having two teachers] would probably be having two opinions, two perspectives, [and] two different personalities,” Abigail said. “That factor of having not only one but two teachers in the classroom with you is pretty awesome.”

Students like Abigail are not the only ones that feel like this combination is successful for the AP Seminar class. Labenz also believes that the two perspectives help the students understand the material and perform better. 

“I believe it’s very beneficial [to have two teachers],” Labenz said. “[Penninga] can answer any questions [the students] may have on writing, structure, [or] citing sources, and I can provide more of the social studies background on content and presentations.”

While this dynamic is exactly what FHC needed for a class like AP Seminar, Abigail and Labenz believe that there are other classes that should and should not be co-taught.

“I think [FHC] should have a co-taught eleventh grade World History and English [class],” Labenz said. “There could be a lot of overlap in content like there is in the tenth-grade bloc, and I am a big believer in cross-curricular education. When a student learns about a different topic from a couple of angles, I think it helps them to draw connections better and remember more.”

Abigail also believes that classes like English and History are great classes to be taught by two teachers because of the overlap in curriculum, but there are others that should not be co-taught. 

“I think that for AP Seminar,” Abigail said, “it’s a valid class to require two teachers with the subject encompassing a broad range of grammar to world-wide events and ideas. However, I couldn’t see this style benefitting traditional courses like Algebra or Chemistry.”

While this style may not seem quite as ideal for classes like Algebra or Chemistry, FHC offers co-taught classes in both of these subjects. 

For years, the Algebra/Geometry I course has been taught by two teachers and this trend continued into this year. 

“Having two teachers in the classroom benefits students in so, so, so many ways,” math teacher Tracy Will said. “Each teacher has more time to interact with the work being completed by the students, [and] we teachers can grade homework and follow up with students who aren’t yet demonstrating mastery.”

Will and math teacher Todd Hartman co-teach the Algebra/Geometry I course together. This class is the first of a two-year course that teaches the concrete details of math during the student’s freshman year, and the more abstract details of the two classes are taught during the students’ sophomore year. 

Sophomore Julianna Hahn took this course last year and is now enrolled in the second year course: Algebra/Geometry II. While she didn’t feel that she needed the support of two teachers, she still found positive aspects to the class. 

“My work and tests were graded faster,” Julianna said.“Because one teacher could grade and the other could teach, there wasn’t that annoying waiting period for your grades to go into Power School, [and] your results were instant.”

Most students will agree in appreciating the ability to process results from quizzes and tests faster, but Julianna realized that there were some disadvantages to the experience as well. 

“The different teaching styles of the teachers were a little hard to adjust to,” Julianna said. “One of the teachers was a lot more logic-based, from the book, and the other was a lot more visual-based. So from day to day, it was hard to adjust to each teacher’s opposite teaching styles.”

Considering both the positives and negatives of co-teaching, the teachers feel that in the end, the decision to co-teach a class is always with the best interest of the students in mind.

Science teachers Kristy Butler and Jason Colegrove co-teach two classes this year: Chemistry 210, a sophomore-level class, and Biology, a freshman-level class. 

“We just want to provide extra support to students who need it,” Butler said. “For Students that are in our class, if they didn’t have the opportunity to be in [a co-taught] class, I don’t think they would do as well [with one teacher] as they do now.” 

We just want to provide extra support to students who need it.”

— Butler

Because there are two different minds working towards the success of these students, teachers are required to put in extra work and collaboration to ensure that they are providing the best possible support to students who need it. 

“I would just say that it takes a lot of work and a lot of conversations before classes start,” Colegrove said. “[Lots of] pre-planning [is necessary] to make the class go smoothly. So, we put a lot of work [in] during the summer to make sure that we are on the same page.”

One of the important things that co-teachers have to be on the same page about is grading. Because there are two different styles, teachers have to make sure that they are consistent with their grading so that it is fair to all students.

“Grading takes a lot longer too,” Butler said. “So, we’ll both sit down and grade our tests and our assessments and our assignments together. So, instead of having one person kind of go through very quickly, we take one at a time and talk about how we think it should be, what our standard is, [and] how that student’s doing.”

When looking towards the future of co-taught classes, the administration team is pretty thorough in identifying those classes which need the extra support and care from another staff member. This extra support can allow teachers to interact more personally with the students on a more regular basis, aiding in success and satisfaction. 

“We can check-in with more students more often during every class period,” Will said, “which boosts the self-esteem level of students and makes them know that they matter in this school.”