Job sharing deemed successful for HES teachers

Four is a special number for two first-grade classes at Hillsboro Elementary School.

Four teachers-Michele Berens, Debbie Dick, Charlene Driggers and Julie Linnens-are “job sharing” in their two classrooms.

Driggers and Berens divide their days in one classroom while Dick and Linnens do the same in another classroom.

The third first-grade class at HES has one full-time teacher, Michelle Goldsby.

Job sharing is not the same as team teaching, the other four teachers are quick to point out.

“People are often confused by that,” Dick said.

On all days except Wednesday afternoon, the teachers are job sharing. Each teacher is assigned particular days of the week to work alone with her students.

For instance, Berens and Dick teach in their respective classrooms all day on Monday and Tuesday and in the morning on Wednesday.

All four teachers are paired together in their respective classrooms on Wednesday afternoon.

Then, on Thursday and Friday, Driggers and Linnens teach all day alone.

“What we do on Wednesdays is team teaching because we are both here,” Dick said. “Team teaching is when two people are together in the room.”

Working together with the students on Wednesday afternoons allows the teachers to do some activities that require more than one person. It also gives the two first-grade teachers time after school to work together planning lessons for the following week.

But what they do the other days of the week is job sharing.

The four first-grade teachers have been job sharing together since 1997.

“This will be our fifth year,” Berens said. “It’s been going well.”

At the beginning of the school year, all four teachers team teach for the first week. Throughout the year they all participate in parent-teacher conferences, in-service days and report-card days.

The concept at HES started eight years ago.

“I was getting ready to have my second child and I thought it would be great to teach part time,” Dick said.

Marilyn Jost was the principal at that time and was sympathetic to Dick’s situation.

Jost, herself a mother of three boys, said she understood the difficulty teachers have trying to divide loyalties between their families and their students.

“I always thought that if I had the chance, I would like to give good teachers and young moms the chance of being good teachers and good moms,” Jost said.

“I knew it could be possible if time could be allotted so there was room for both rather than one or the other.”

Jost believed that when the school had well-trained staff, it needed to keep them. She didn’t want to see teachers torn between family and students.

Before presenting the initial proposal to the school board eight years ago, Jost did her homework. She checked with districts around the state to better understand how they handled job sharing. She said she got a lot of positive feedback from the schools she contacted.

“She really helped sell it to the school board and the other administrators,” Dick said.

Said Jost: “It was quite a long process and I was thankful for that too because I felt like we didn’t want to ‘snow’ them. We wanted to present the proposal that was sound enough and rational enough for them to consider. It took several months before they gave their OK to it.”

The school board was initially concerned that the teachers sharing a classroom would not have sufficient opportunity to communicate with each other. That’s why they initiated the team-teaching curriculum on Wednesday afternoons.

Pat Call, current HES principal, said job sharing in the first grade has worked well.

“Part of it is the individuals involved,” he said. “They’ve worked hard as a team. The fact that they have that time together on Wednesdays has been a big factor in the success of the job-share program.”

The four teachers praise the merits of the program but realize some parents are concerned that their child has two different teachers during the week.

Within that general concern, according to others, are the consistency of discipline in each classroom, the chance of confusion when children have to deal with two different personalities, and the possible loss of continuity and structure in the curriculum.

According to Call, these issues could be a problem if the four teachers didn’t work well together. But in this case, the four teachers do get along well and communicate openly on their shared Wednesdays.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had to move a child out of those classrooms,” Call said.

Jost also pointed out that most children in their family life have to share their allegiance with two parents.

“Even if you have just one classroom teacher, you don’t just have one teacher,” Jost said.

Throughout the day, she added, students might have a music teacher, an art teacher or a physical education teacher.

“We couldn’t do this without the principal and the superintendent supporting us,” Linnens said. “They are positive about it and I think that’s another big reason why it works.”

Berens added, “I feel very fortunate to be in a school district that allows us to do this.”

She said the arrangement gives her more time with her family on her days off.

Berens just gave birth to a daughter Aug. 31. Driggers was willing to take over Beren’s schedule until she returns.

This means her students have more consistency in the classroom and don’t have to get used to a substitute teacher while they wait for Berens to return.

Berens said: “Having two different teachers is good for the kids. They get two different styles and different ideas from two teachers.”

Dick believes the benefits of the program outweigh anything negative.

“In the last five years we’ve had just a few kids who had trouble adjusting to two teachers, but overall the kids do fine,” Berens said.

All four teachers agreed that another advantage of job sharing is trading days if they have family conflicts.

Dick said she likes the fact that she doesn’t have to have a substitute when she has a doctor’s appointment, for instance.

She is glad she can rely on Linnens to take over her classes.

Driggers is willing to take over Berens classes and work full time until Berens returns in November.

Linnens also likes the fact that Dick is in the classroom the first part of the week when she’s fresh.

“She gives 110 percent those three days and then I come in, or Charlene comes in for Michele, and we’re fresh and ready to give 110 percent of ourselves for two and a half days,” Linnens said.

“One of the nice things about job sharing is when we sit down as a first-grade team we’re not two teachers, we’re four teachers for two classes,” she added. “We have many more ideas to pull from; more heads together to come up with neat things to do.”

“Debbie has taught for so much longer that I have. I have learned a lot of things from her.”

And how do Linnens’s students feel about the job-share program?

Peyton Loewen said she likes having both teachers in the classroom on Wednesdays.

“Sometimes when I raise my hand, one teacher might be looking the other way,” Loewen said. “The other teacher might know and she can answer that question.”

Added Lucas Sinclair: “I like it because sometimes you don’t always do the same thing. We get something different with different teachers.”

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