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The Co-teacher

By Mubarak Abdessalami

              In particular ESL classrooms, such as crowded ones, the teacher is always torn apart between many tasks to do at the same time. The most strenuous of which are two major ones. First, trying to get students' attention and keeping them quiet and busy all the time. The second one is supervising their work. And these two are the backbone of the teacher's global work. There are some classrooms where the number of students is a tough and a huge burden that the teacher looks helpless as to carry or control. A co-teacher in such an extraordinary environment is an important element to help with classroom management. There are some colleagues who suggest that this coordinator should be an outsider and it is far better if he or she is a native speaker. I have no objection about that but only for special projects assistance. I guess, when we call upon an outsider co-teacher, we are just putting up our lessons and intended activities on probabilities. The presence or the punctuality of the outsider co-teacher are not guaranteed, because of his or her personal work and time schedule, and this will blow apart all the previously planned lesson activities and set chaos to the class. I suggest however that, excellent students in each class can do the job far better than an outsider and that's for many reasons.
  • The outsider co-teacher always requires instructions of what to do during a given activity in a classroom.
  • He or she needs a long time before the students get acquainted with his or her company.
  • It takes a great deal before he or she gets familiar with your teaching approach.
  • He or she takes a longer time before he or she knows exactly about the students' needs.
  • He or she may break out students' attentiveness and concentration.
  • The outsider co-teacher is only a volunteer who is not obliged to come on time or come at all because of his or her own obligations.
  • The outsider co-teacher may interfere with the content or the procedure of an activity or at least disturb the course of action previously set.

              Thus, an outsider volunteer is not quite an ideal co-teacher. On the other hand, if the teacher's assistant is among the students, classes will progress normally and smoothly because:

1st, Local co-teachers are among your students on whom you have got some sort of authority.

2nd, You rarely worry about their absence from classes as they are good and hardworking students and that school is the sole interest for them.

3rd, Their position in the classroom as the teacher's right-hand will surely encourage other students to work harder to get some of that privilege.

4th, The teacher can rely on them to manage, monitor, and assist their classmates with understanding and interpreting an exercise, activity, or any task in group work.

5th, The student co-teacher is the intermediate between the teacher and under-confident students. They can understand each other better.

6th, Good students, working as co-teachers, can paraphrase the teacher's assignments, to the slow assimilating students, in the language and the manner students understand best.

7th, The student co-teacher supervision is more tolerated than the teacher's. The members of the groups work relaxingly in the presence of one of their alike but not in the presence of the teacher who is supposed to check for errors and mistakes only.

Finally, these co-teachers do the tasks so excitingly and perfectly that the teacher may just guide the students, provides them with the instructions clearly of what she wants to be accomplished and keeps aloof.

              From hitherto stated advantages, I think excellent students in each group or class or school level can do the job better than a volunteer co-teacher who will always be a stranger for the students. In other words, volunteers are not committed; they have their own preoccupations themselves so you can not rely on their presence whenever you need them. Consequently you have to look for volunteers every time. This diversity and change in volunteers will surely have some impact on your work and on the students as well. It could be a positive impact but also it could have adverse effects. In adult classes this will have no or less effect contrary to younger students. The intimacy of the classroom counts too much for them. I mean that the classroom is their own domain where only the teacher (the mother/father-figure) and the other students (friends) are allowed.

              Apart from this, we should not deny the most considerable help the outsider volunteer could afford in specific projects. Take for example a simulation of a situation where students are supposed to ask for or to sit for an interview to fill in a visa form or any other situation where authentic natural language is required. Local co-teachers cannot be of great help in such real-to-life situations because the others won't take their interviewing for serious. On the opposite of that an outsider volunteer can control this side of sincerity of the task and ask students normal questions about their names, ages, addresses, and so on and so forth. In this case the students' answers will be as well more authentic themselves because they are not answering the teacher's questions for accuracy or fluency check; but for the information of its sake. With an outsider volunteer students are more attentive because they get aware of the fact that they may face a similar challenging situation one day where English is not used for learning purposes but for real life needs.

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