“It’s just like a marriage” - or is it?
Updated: Feb 16, 2020
In one of our first tandem teaching conference presentations, we focused on the technical aspects of coordinating instruction across languages in a dual language program. We discussed co-planning for curriculum, instruction, and assessment, as well as classroom management and family communication. While our presentation was well-received, we both held onto one comment from a participant, who asked, “This all sounds lovely, but what if you and your partner teacher don’t even get along? How is any of this going to work?” That comment really made us stop and think, because as much as we realized that not all partners got along as well as we did, we didn’t fully appreciate the extent to which interpersonal friction could put a full stop to the co-teaching relationship and seriously impact instruction. We mistakenly assumed that most of the challenges tandem teachers faced were related to not having a clear idea of how to work together, and that once that was in place, the co-teaching relationship would begin to gel and move forward. After hearing that comment, we thought about it some more, and realized that there is a much larger discussion to be had about the actual relationship among tandem teachers.
As we thought about it, we reflected on the metaphor of co-teaching in dual language programs that is frequently used - that ‘it’s just like a marriage.’ You and your partner are interdependent and work very closely together, so at first glance, this metaphor seems to work. The more we thought about it in light of the conference participant’s comment, though, the more we realized that that marriage metaphor is actually misguided.
We realized that a more compelling metaphor is to say that tandem teaching is like co-parenting. Let’s take a look at what happens when we shift the metaphor from a marriage to co-parenting….
Marriage vs. Co-Parenting as Metaphors for Tandem Teaching
First and most importantly, in a marriage, the focus is on one another, whereas in co-parenting, the focus is on the children. This really gets to the heart of the comment of the conference participant, because the extreme discord between those tandem teachers resulted from a marriage orientation, where the focus was on each other and how frustrating each partner found the other to be, to the point of a total inability to work together. In a co-parenting orientation, there can still be considerable friction between partners, but there is also an agreement that there is a shared higher purpose that is being served, and that shared higher purpose is the good of the children. Therefore, tandem teachers are called upon to continue to work on their relationship so that it can promote effective co-teaching for the good of their students.
Second, a related difference is that in a marriage, enjoying one another’s company is usually a key motivation for initiating and sustaining the relationship, whereas in a co-parenting relationship, it’s not. Married partners at least aspire to enjoy one another’s company and to do things together, and if that is not happening, it is often an indicator that there is a problem in the marriage that may lead the couple to seek help or eventually terminate the partnership. In contrast, in a co-parenting relationship, partners do not need to enjoy one another’s company since again, the focus is on the children rather than one another. Co-parents that don’t live together frequently spend time independently with the children, and moments together are reduced to family events, such as a school play or bat mitzvah, or to moments in which the partners are reviewing co-parenting logistics and making plans for moving forward. To engage in these joint activities, co-parents must be able to respectfully tolerate one another’s company, but they don’t have to necessarily enjoy their time together.
Likewise, tandem teachers need to be able to support one another and to interact respectfully with one another, but don’t have to enjoy one another’s company or choose to spend time together outside of the co-teaching relationship. Obviously, it’s preferable if co-teachers actually enjoy one another’s company, but if that seems like a very distant possibility in your situation, a mutually respectful tolerance may be a more realistic goal at this point.
Finally, the third major difference is that a marriage is by choice and can be terminated (depending on specific cultural and religious norms, as well as national laws for those of you living outside of the United States), whereas a co-parenting relationship can’t. Let’s just say you don’t get along with your husband or wife - maybe you decide to separate or get a divorce, but your co-parenting responsibilities don’t go away. Likewise, you can’t walk away from your co-teaching responsibilities if you don’t get along with your partner. You’ve got to figure out a way to make it work for the good of the students.
By shifting the metaphor from a marriage to co-parenting, we don’t mean to imply that such a shift magically makes it easy to get along with someone that you have struggled to get along with in the past, but it does foster a change in mindset about why it is important to attend to your co-teaching relationship and work to make it functional. At a very basic level, this is all about ‘walking the walk’ of the third goal of dual language programs - promoting sociocultural competence. If we expect our students to develop an awareness of themselves and others, to get along with others who are different from them on a variety of dimensions, and to resolve interpersonal conflicts, then we have to be willing and able to do these things ourselves.
So what do you think about our proposed shift from a marriage metaphor to a co-parenting metaphor? Share your comments below! We would love to hear your thoughts!
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