Opinion
Student Well-Being Opinion

Teachers Helping Teachers, Let’s Model Cooperative Learning

By Starr Sackstein — August 25, 2014 2 min read
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What happens when you get two English teachers together pre-season to talk shop?

Exactly what you would expect of students who haven’t seen each other since June.

For the first half hour, we talked about our summers infusing short tidbits of expectations for the upcoming school year.

(Note to self to not get too upset with students when they do this the first week of school, especially in early period classes.)

Both of us are teaching different programs this year. Although, I’m used to these kinds of changes as parts of my program have changed every year since I started teaching at our school 8 years ago, my colleague is trepidatious because these are the first major change in years.

A few weeks ago, I reached out to her in an effort to start collaborating because I thought I’d be teaching one of the classes she used to teach.

As it turns out, I’m not teaching that class, I’m teaching something else, but she is teaching a class I used to teach, so we took the opportunity to meet anyway.

Picking each other’s brains is an invaluable way to prepare for change.

Often, we put our students in groups and ask them to collaborate on tasks, all the while hypocritically doing the opposite when it comes to planning the work they will do. Fortunately, I work well with this teacher. We used to share a classroom and we’ve watched each other teach. Since we approach teaching from a different perspective, she pushes me to consider things that wouldn’t naturally happen for me. I like to think I do the same for her.

There are many ways to collaborate with others, but there is always something to be learned, even when it doesn’t seem like much transpired.

For example, for the whole of our meeting, my laptop remained closed and I wrote nothing down. But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t helped me start thinking. The conversation helped put a lot into perspective. It has helped me connect different ideas about how I want to approach the year and consider what will be different from last.

After seeing my class lists, my classes are much larger than last year which means the approach will have to shift anyway and brainstorming with a person I respect (and has also taught many of my incoming kids) helped put things into perspective.

My mind is busy with ideas now. It’s time to really make use of the excitement.

Here are some useful ways to get over the fear of teaching something new:


  • Find out who taught your class before and who else may be teaching the same class now
  • See if you can make a date to hang out with that person or people
  • Ask to share past used syllabi or curriculum maps
  • Talk to students who have taken the class
  • Figure out what the goals for the year are supposed to be and work backward to set a calendar
  • Gather as much information as you can - do your research
  • Plan but remember to be flexible
  • Always ask for help - often and frequently
  • Don’t be afraid to take risks. You aren’t set in your ways yet... so now’s the time.
  • Brainstorm ideas together, bouncing ideas off of each other
  • Remember this year could be the best year ever

So how are you going to turn this possible negative into a positive? Take on this new experience with the excited eyes of a student, curious about the possibilities. Your colleagues are an incredible source of strength and inspiration, make sure to tap the resources that are available.

How are you going to prepare for your new classes? Please share.

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