Team-teaching during a pandemic: A Q&A with two MLFTC residents

By

Erik Ketcherside

Maggie Trupkiewicz and Dalia Uriostegui are two of the 1,281 educators who graduated this week from Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Trupkiewicz is from Fort Collins, Colorado. Uriostegui was born in California but raised in Arizona. Both earned the Bachelor of Arts in Education in Special Education and Elementary Education, one of the college’s most popular teaching degrees. They are also among the more than 1,600 teacher candidates whose internships and residencies brought them a challenge unique in a century of MLFTC history: student teaching during a pandemic.

Maggie Trupkiewicz

Maggie Trupkiewicz, BAE '20

Trupkiewicz and Uriostegui completed their residencies at Papago School in the Creighton School District in Phoenix, Arizona, where MLFTC’s Office of Professional Experiences placed them on a team with mentor teachers in the school. They were supported by their site lead, Clinical Assistant Professor Kathleen Haltorp. The pair’s role on the team was teaching in a self-contained special education classroom. Their students, kindergarten through grade 2, have varied exceptionalities, but their classroom is designed primarily to support students who have autism spectrum disorder or similar needs. About half of their students are also English language learners.

The team-teaching model was developed by MLFTC’s Next Education Workforce to provide all students with deeper and personalized learning by building teams of educators with distributed expertise. Trupkiewicz and Uriostegui demonstrated the concept in their classroom, where they shared a role that would traditionally have been expected of a single teacher. 

Dalia Uriostegui

Dalia Uriostegui, BAE '20

They also learned the value of being part of a team of educators when confronted with the enormous challenges of teaching during the pandemic. Uriostegui served primarily as the classroom’s in-person teacher, working with students whose families chose to have them return to school on site. Trupkiewicz spent most of her time with students who were learning remotely. But the distribution of responsibilities also afforded them the flexibility to take over for each other easily; for example, during alternating lunch breaks.

Trupkiewicz and Uriostegui shared their experiences and impressions on team teaching this fall.

How would you describe team teaching to people who are used to a traditional teacher-classroom situation?

MT: The simplest way to describe it is that there are two teachers in the same classroom, but the reality is way more complex. It's a way to always be playing to everyone's strengths because you have the option of dividing responsibilities in ways that highlight each individual's passions and knowledge, which in turn benefits the students.

DU: We split the work and we bounce ideas off each other. We share the same kids, so we get to know our students really well which helps us develop lesson plans that benefit all of our students. 

MT: Co-teaching is a way to make the difficult parts of being a teacher easier because you're not doing it alone. You've got another mind to brainstorm new strategies. Having a co-teacher is also a support network at the end of a long day or week; someone who understands what you're going through.

DU: You feel supported and you grow in ways you never thought you could.

Does team teaching offer any particular advantages for student teachers?

MT: The way that Dalia and I do it, we are both acting as half of a special education teacher, so together we fill one role. It offered a lot of opportunities to experience the realities of being a first-year teacher, while still receiving the support and guidance from ASU's courses, our site lead Katie Haltorp and our mentors at Papago. We had the experiences most people have after they graduate while we're still in the program and able to get consistent guidance.

DU: Team teaching gave us as student teachers the opportunity to learn from other teachers; a chance to observe different teaching strategies.

MT: But there's a big difference between watching — learning how teachers set up their classrooms, access curricular tools, structure their schedule and activities, connect with families, write IEPs, run IEP meetings — and being the one in control of those responsibilities. We do all of it together.

What advantages does it offer for your students? What benefits did you see in their performance?

DU: They’re able to have more individual time with a teacher. And sometimes a student feels more comfortable with one teacher over the other.

MT: Our kids are fortunate to have Dalia as their teacher, as she is bilingual and can embed multilingual instruction into our classroom when and where our kiddos need it. Students, just like adults, don't always click with the personalities of their teacher, so having a teaching team allows all students to form a connection that helps them feel secure with someone they genuinely click with.

DU: Working as a team also allows us to create lesson plans that benefit all students because we have more time to develop them, to collaborate and share ideas.

MT: Our students have shown some fantastic growth this semester, despite the pandemic-induced differences in how the school looks. IEP goals have been met early, and our students have formed friendships with one another, both in person and online.

DU: The students we have are wonderful. They are the sweetest kids I have met and I am completely grateful that I get to be their teacher. 

MT: In this world of COVID right now, ensuring that your students know how much they are cared for and valued is far more important than any other accomplishment. Our kids have shown us they know how much we care and have grown in countless ways. Every day there's a new first, a new accomplishment, and a lot of laughter. I think that's the most important thing.

Can you see any disadvantages to team teaching?

MT: I've experienced none, I honestly think everyone should have a co-teacher! If Dalia and I had said no to co-teaching as the self-contained special education teacher, we never would have gotten half of the experiences we've had this semester. 

DU: I personally didn’t have any disadvantages with having a co-teacher — My co-teacher is amazing! Maybe if someone had to work with a person they were not comfortable with, that could be a disadvantage. Sometimes people have a difficult time working with specific people.

MT: It would likely be a struggle as well if your teaching team was made up of personalities that didn't fit well. I trust Dalia, no question. And without that element, it'd be difficult to sustain an effective teaching team.

The biggest disadvantage may be the lack of team teaching as a reality in the actual teaching field. Our program at ASU shows how important and beneficial team teaching is, and yet it continues to be absent from schools and districts.

So team teaching is something you recommend that more schools adopt?

DU: Yes! 3,000 times yes! I wish more schools offered co-teaching positions.

MT: Absolutely. Students are individual and unique; one approach of instruction doesn't fit all students' needs, and team-teaching allows for diverse perspectives and instructional moves to be implemented, which gives students a more complete depth of understanding.

And … teaching is hard. Teachers balance the expectations of their administration, their district, students and their families, the community, and their own expectations, while being asked by all of these stakeholders to do an increasing number of tasks — often with little in the way of support or respect; all while meeting and caring for a classroom full of kids who come to trust you, joke with you, learn with you and rely on you. Team teaching is a critical support for teachers' mental health and well-being. I am endlessly thankful that I get to spend my first year with Dalia as the yin to my yang.