As today is International Volunteer Day, TIEs would like to make a recommendation to anyone considering volunteer teaching abroad:

Co-teach with the local teachers, rather than teach your own classes.

Co-teaching is a beautiful thing. By definition, it means collaboration and teamwork. But in my experience, co-teaching is under-utilized in teach abroad programs in developing countries. Volunteers without much teaching experience will certainly benefit from the guidance and expertise of a local co-teacher, but even experienced teachers should co-teach when they go abroad. Here’s why:

1. Co-teaching doesn’t displace local teachers. If you teach your own class during regular school hours, you are taking instructional time away from the regular classroom teacher. Ask any teacher with a curriculum to get through – they don’t have time to spare. Co-teaching will support the local teachers’ work, instead of making it harder for them to do.

2. Co-teaching ensures culturally-appropriate instruction. Every culture has its own learning preferences and norms for education. You can learn what these collaborating with a local professional. Otherwise, you may be imposing your own ideals of education. Remember: you’re there to support the schools, not make their culture more like yours.

3. Co-teaching prevents “learning loss”. When a volunteer leaves after teaching his or her own class for several weeks or months, what happens next? The students may lose what they learned because there is no one there to build upon it. Having a local partner solves this problem.

4. Co-teaching is professional development. All teachers bring their own strengths to the classroom – why keep these to ourselves? Co-teaching allows teachers to grow professionally by sharing their expertise, particularly when planning lessons together. Younger, less experienced teachers should seek to learn from a mentor through a teaching assistant role.

5. Co-teaching develops intercultural competence. In today’s global society, we need to know how to successfully interact with people of backgrounds different from our own. Collaborating with a peer from a different country helps you develop this skill.

Sharing control of a classroom can be challenging for many teachers. That’s why TIEs will conduct regular check-ins with our co-teaching pairs. With proper support, co-teaching has the power to achieve long-term, sustainable improvements in education. Before you go abroad to teach, check to see if the organization offers opportunities to co-teach with the local teachers. It’s the responsible way to volunteer teach abroad!

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