They team teach in San Diego and they like it

''I wouldn't teach now if I weren't team teaching.''

So strong a statement, made by Elwanda Whitten, a fourth-grade elementary teacher in the San Diego public schools, is not unusual for educators who ''team'' in this city.

One of a core of 20 teachers dedicated to ''teaming,'' Ms. Whitten is convinced that team teaching is the best way to face the numerous daily pressures that lead to teacher burnout (an increased body of general knowledge; greater accountability; an apparent lack of professional support; diminished respectability in the eyes of the public and media).

Team teaching is not a new idea. Nor is it a recent innovation sprung from the closets of university education departments on unsuspecting parents and uninformed students.

Some sort of teaming has been going on in both public and private schools for many years.

Its proponents in San Diego even regard it as one possible answer to teacher burnout. They heartily endorse team teaching for any teacher looking to take greater control over the classroom at a time when it appears many outside forces cause just the opposite.

Yet team teaching is definitely not a technique for all teachers.

''You won't find teacher organizations clamoring for it,'' said Dorothy I. Byergo, principal of Miramar Elementary School, ''but, it is an alternative form of education good for some schools and some teachers.''

Beverly Clay and Jackie Long have teamed together in San Diego for nine years. ''The heart of the concept of team teaching lies not in details of structure and organization, but more in the spirit of planning, constant collaboration, close unity, communication, and sincere sharing,'' the two Miller elementary schoolteachers agree.

More formally, Ms. Clay and Ms. Long state in their joint master's thesis on the subject: ''Teaming gives teachers the advantage of working together with other professionals in course planning, idea presentation, content reinforcement , and program evaluation . . . team teaching breaks down the walls of instructional isolation and invites the capabilities of several teachers to focus on common instructional problems.''

A good team can develop an esprit de corps that may not exist elsewhere in education and which certainly helps in getting over hurdles, said all of the some 15 San Diego team teachers interviewed. There can be regular and systematic discussion by the whole team of the progress and development of every child within the team.

Lest all this sound esoteric and removed from elementary school, keep in mind that each morning at the sound of the bell at the Miller school, 96 kindergarteners and first graders quietly and promptly enter ''Clay's Corner,'' ''Long's Lodge'' and ''Barnett's Bungalow.''

Movable wall partitions are shunted aside so that all three rooms become one large gathering place. Songs are sung, messages and attendance handled. The learning day then begins with small groups tramping off to assigned areas.

One misconception about team teaching is that it eliminates a need for an elementary-age child to have a ''home base'' - one teacher to call his or her own. At Miller each teacher is directly responsible for 32 students. And each teacher meets with all 96 students in large and small groups for both instruction and work/play. Three aides are assigned to the class in addition to the three teachers.

''The time spent between teacher and child associated with the traditional classroom is not compromised by team teaching,'' said Catherine Kijak, a fifth-grade teacher at Miramar Ranch Elementary School.

''The group evaluation of each student by a team makes for a better evaluation,'' Ms. Kijak said between songs with a group of 10 students. ''Not all students learn in the same way, and teaming lends itself to flexibility in this approach. It is much less likely for a student with a learning problem to spend a year with three teachers, rather than just one, and for us to miss the problem and not do something about it.''

Dr. Rosary Nepi, principal at Miller points out four major areas to address when considering team teaching: (1) overall planning including personnel involved, (2) space organization, (3) academic content, and (4) record keeping.

''Choosing to team teach must be a voluntary decision made by the teacher,'' she said. ''You can't make someone do this unless they want to, and ideally teachers should choose their team members.''

She cautions, ''Good planning also means a principal should provide an escape valve via a transfer outlet for the team teacher who finds out it is not for him or her in midyear.

''Team teachers must voluntarily commit themselves to their teaching assignment. Then, as I like to say, 'You can't hold a good team back,' '' says principal Byergo.

Much extra time for meetings is required in team teaching. ''If sufficient time is not given to planning, teaming will become so frustrating that it is bound to fail,'' say Ms. Clay and Ms. Long.

''Carefully thought-out traffic patterns will make the sharing of space and children go smoothly,'' Dr. Nepi says. Inappropriate space can be a major hindrance and conversion of existing space can be costly. Training of aides and prospective team members may be more costly than the traditional classroom setting and should be taken into account.

''You teach math and reading as these are not debatable subjects,'' she said, ''but then you have some flexibility and can teach to the strengths of the teachers involved.''

''A child must develop self-direction,'' said Beverly Clay. ''A child having trouble with this will have a tough time in a team teaching setting.''

''One area where we watch student performance very closely,'' said prinicpal Nepi ''is whether the child seems to get lost in the shuffle of so many students in one room; is not self-motivated or independent enough for group activities. If this is the case, and we feel the child can't focus on learning as well as we'd like, after consultation with the parents we would then move the child to a traditional classroom.''

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