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Some local teachers are sharing contracts, classes

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Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 7:05 am, Thu Sep 27, 2012.

For the last seven years, Susan Petersen has only gone to work three days a week. The River Oaks Elementary School teacher spends the other days at home writing lesson plans, taking care of her children or volunteering in their classrooms.

She is on one of eight teaching teams in the Galt Joint Union Elementary School District.

Locally, teachers are allowed to partner and share a contract, which essentially means they share one classroom and one group of students. The teachers each choose a portion of the contract — for example, one may do 80 percent of the work and the other 20 percent — but it is more common to split the job 50-50.

Although the configuration is popular for the Galt elementary district, Superintendent Karen Schauer doesn't believe it's necessarily a growing trend. In the last five years, there have been an average of seven teacher teams each year.

Still, job sharing appeals to teachers for a number of reasons, Petersen said.

"First, I am a mother, and that job I take seriously. I have been able to be at home with my children, yet stay in the profession," she said. "I feel that I have a sense of balance and enough structure in my life to be a great mom and teacher."

Job share teams also allow students to experience the talent and strengths of more than one teacher on a weekly basis, Schauer said.

At any given time, the teacher is solely responsible for his or her class.

Petersen and teaching partner Dani Wildermuth work closely to align their routines, procedures and strategies to benefit student learning for their second-graders — something Petersen said she enjoys.

"I have learned a lot. We constantly are working together to solve problems and figure out best practices," she said.

Last Wednesday, for example, Petersen observed Wildermuth in the classroom, as they are transitioning to reading groups, something new for both of them.

"We both are very committed to our students and understand that consistency between us is vital to their success," Petersen said. "If we need to come and work extra, we do."

Application process

Teachers interested in working in team teaching partnerships must apply for the arrangement with the teacher they would like to work with, as well as with the principal. It must be approved by the school board before each school year.

When they apply to the district as a team, teachers have to address potential concerns such as how they will keep consistency in their teaching and lesson planning, and how they will arrange the work week and cover each other's absences.

In addition to balancing the job, the participant teachers are required to have a regular time to confer and consult with each other. Even though job-share teams are not on a full-time schedule, teachers must attend all in-services required of full-time teachers.

Just as in a regular assignment, the experience levels of teachers participating in the job share positions determines any cost savings. For example, a more senior teacher paired with a less senior teacher costs less, according to Schauer.

Greer Principal Emily Peckham was part of a teaching team before she became an administrator. Like Petersen, she applied for her job-share position because of her children, and requested such a placement each year after her first two children were born and worked as a team teacher for a total of two years.

"A job share affords you the time to nicely balance your family life with your work life," Peckham said.

Currently, the district's eight teams are teaching pre-kindergarten through third grade classes. Four are renewals from last school year and were approved in March.

Popular choice in Galt

In this region, team teaching appears more prevalent in the Galt elementary district, although Peckham said she's not sure why. Four percent of the district's teachers participate.

"It is a very workable situation," Peckham said. "We have very hard-working teachers who collaborate well. That may be a possible reason we have so many."

There are no shared-contract teachers in the Galt Joint Union High School District. Instead, teachers will usually lower the number of classes they teach to accommodate a part-time schedule, Superintendent Matthew Roberts said. Then the district will fill the other classes as needed.

Since high school students attend a number of different classes in separate periods, co-teaching is a bit different than at the elementary level, he added.

In Lodi Unified, where the pool of teachers is much larger, team teaching isn't as popular. There are seven teams this year.

Erin Flores and Elizabeth Wright teach a sixth-grade class together at Lois Borchardt Elementary in what Wright refers to as a "marriage." The couple also has a set routine in their lessons; Flores focuses more on spelling, vocabulary and the main reading selection on Monday and Tuesday, while Wednesday is a grammar-heavy day. Wright turns her attention mainly to writing Thursday and Friday.

"That doesn't mean we aren't teaching all the areas, but those are our focus on those days so we know what to plan and prep for," Wright said.

Teachers Christy Dunn and Michelle Keegan share a fourth-grade class at Beckman Elementary.

Keegan applied for the position because she wanted to be home with her daughter after she was born last December.

"Yet I didn't want to give up my career and my years of service with LUSD. I love teaching and want to be able to do both whole-heartedly, not be spread too thin in one area or another," she said.

Now she feels she has the best of all three: Being at home with her daughter for her "firsts," still contributing to the family's income and continuing to educate students.

In the classroom, she and Dunn divide up some of the subjects, which allows them to spend more time planning quality instruction, developing projects and making learning enjoyable for their students, Keegan said.

"The energy I am able to bring to classroom is so much more than what I would if I were having to teach alone," said Dunn, also a new mother. Her second daughter was born in May.

"My choice was either to go out on FMLA, which means my class would have started the year with a substitute teacher that may or may not hold the students to the expectations I do, or to explore this job-share concept," she said of her decision to choose to team teach.

The teachers email almost daily back and forth about student progress and brainstorm with each other about how to tackle different issues they may be having, according to Dunn.

Keegan works Thursdays and Fridays, while Dunn is in the classroom on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

"I get to Wednesday morning after being up all night with my now 4-month-old and realize I just need the energy to make it through one more day; then I will have four days to recuperate," Dunn said. Principal Jon Price approved the team's job share.

"In my perspective, it really is a case-by-case basis," he said. "I saw this particular job share as the opportunity to have two excellent teachers for this class. Both teachers communicate with each other, the parents and the students well."

Communication key

Wright and Flores have a binder in their room that is like their Holy Grail, Wright said.

"Any important papers or communication goes in there so the other always knows where to find it," she said. "We are constantly in communication through text message, email and a written journal that is kept in the binder as well. We've found that even on our days off we need to be reachable in case questions arise — which they do."

Consistent communication is important, according to Price, who said the parent feedback he has received has been very positive.

Keegan is thankful to both Price and the district for affording her family the job share opportunity.

"It has only been one quarter so far, but it has been a gift," she said.

Petersen, too, says she feels lucky that job sharing gives her extra time with her own children. She started team teaching when her eldest was only 4; now her children are in school.

"They tell me all of the time how much they like my involvement with their classes and school," she said. "I feel that they both have had the extra support or enrichment that they need to be successful as they creep up to middle school."

And Petersen's students feel special having two teachers, she said.

"Most of the students get the best of both of us," Petersen added. "It isn't the same old thing (or teacher) every day."

Her daughter's teachers shared jobs when she was in the fourth grade. As a parent, Petersen enjoyed knowing two educators were looking out for her daughter's learning. One challenged her, while the other nurtured her critical thinking and listening skills, she said.

"She may not have had that experience with just one teacher," she said. Keegan agreed that the configuration helps struggling students get information from two teachers in two different ways, maybe allowing them to grasp a concept more fully, she said.

"Team teaching teaches life skills such as flexibility and adaptability and prepares them for middle and high school, where they will be exposed to many teachers," she said.

At the recent back-to-school night, she and Dunn explained to parents that it's two teachers for the price of one.

"Most parents have never had the opportunity to have their child in a job share. Most parents were intrigued and supportive of the venture," Keegan said.

During a parent conference Tuesday, Dunn had a parent tell her how much she appreciates the extra emphasis the team has been able to put on each of the subjects they are teaching.

"It makes me feel good as an educator that we are able to give the students an even better education while at the same time doing something that benefits our own families as well," Dunn said.

Petersen personally enjoys the extra time to plan her teaching lessons for her class at home. She also recently spent time working on a master's degree, something she said she may not have been able to do while working full-time as a teacher.

For Peckham, team teaching was beneficial especially as a new teacher. She was at the early stages of her career and her two different partners served as mentors to her.

"We collaborated very well, and I learned lots," she said, adding that the collaboration and the two teachers working together is the key to a good team. "If you've got the right combination, it's going to be successful."

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com. For more information about local education issues, read our Education Café blog.

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