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Two teachers, one classroom bringing cheers

January 10, 2010
Bakersfield.com
Other classroom factors more important than teacher job sharing, say Lit and Grossman
By 
Jorge Barrientos

The second-grade classroom at Sandrini Elementary School looks typical: student drawings and assignments on the wall, desks in line, teacher's desk with a red apple on top.

Then there's the welcome banner on the wall that reads: "Welcome to Mrs. Kennedy's and Mrs. Skenfield's Class."

One classroom, two teachers.

It's called teacher job share, where two elementary teachers split teaching time in half and receive half their salary. Though not uncommon -- districts countywide host them -- they're also not the norm.

For those teachers who share, the split can work incredibly if the match is right, teachers say. But in this economy, it can also be risky, officials say, as jobs are not guaranteed if teachers decide to pursue full-time gigs.

"At first I thought, 'I'm not sure how I feel about (job share)'," said Concetta Skenfield, job share teacher at Sandrini. "I came to realize how wonderful the setup really was."

WHY JOB SHARE?

Teachers job share for overwhelmingly personal reasons. Some want to spend more time with family, as in Skenfield and Lori Kennedy's case. Others simply can't go full-time, like Panama Elementary School's Terri Nixon, who had to undergo cancer treatment.

"It was a perfect situation," said Nixon, who works Thursdays, Fridays and splits Wednesdays. "I felt I could still give more, and I really didn't want to give up teaching."

The rules on job sharing vary by district. Approval of job-shared classrooms, for example, must go through the superintendent at Rosedale Union, or through the school board at Fruitvale. Or it's simply the principal's call, like at Panama-Buena Vista Union and Bakersfield City school districts.

Some districts and schools limit the number of job-share classrooms. Some only allow tenured teachers to job share. Classrooms have to be approved every year.

Some allow job shares by semester, by week, which is the most common, and even by day -- split between morning and afternoon.

Principal Marshall Dillard has been at Sandrini for eight years, and has allowed at least one job-share class each year. At one point, he said, he had three.

"They're good teachers, and I didn't want to lose them," Dillard said. "The way they work together, they don't miss a beat."

HOW IT WORKS

Several elementary school instruction experts said they were not aware of any research studies on the impact or effectiveness of job sharing.

"What my experience suggests is that like all classroom teaching, quality, commitment and context are key ingredients to success," said Ira Lit, director of Stanford University's Elementary Teacher Education Program and an elementary education expert. "I'm much more concerned about the overall quality and approach to teaching than I am about the organization of the position."

Lit's colleague at Stanford, Pam Grossman, also an expert in elementary education, added students are adaptable and not usually affected by the two-teacher plan.

"Once there's a rhythm, kids are able to adapt to a different teacher," Grossman said. "A lot of it has to do with the relationship with the teachers, a united front and common vision for the classroom."

Teachers said one of the biggest benefits is less burnout.

"When you feel rested you're a better teacher. A rested teacher is a happy teacher," said Skenfield, quoting a previous colleague.

IN CLASS

The key to making job-share teaching work, teachers say, is communication, organization and getting along.

In Skenfield and Kennedy's classroom, buckets labeled Monday through Friday are filled with stacks of student assignments more than a week in advance.

A large white board on the wall lists a schedule of reading tasks and assignments for the day, and is filled out by the teachers daily. A notebook on their desk lists every student issue the other teacher should know about. They talk constantly, they said.

"We communicate daily about every detail regarding the students," Kennedy said. "You want to make sure they know everything."

Because of the time dedicated to planning and communicating, teachers say the job is far from half and half.

"It's more of a 60-60 for sure," Kennedy said. "You're making sure everything runs smoothly for the kids, parents and administrators."

And for parents, the idea of having two teachers can be uneasy at first because of uncertainty, said parent Nicole Hallmark.

"When I saw how they worked together, I felt really at ease," Hallmark said. "It's not a bad thing."

JOB SECURITY

One drawback is job security, administrators say. What happens when teachers want to be full-time again?

At Fruitvale and Rosedale school districts, tenured teachers are guaranteed a spot, but not necessarily a spot at the same school or even at the same grade. At Fruitvale, which has three job share classrooms, it's possible another teacher with less seniority could get bumped by job share teacher.

But at Panama-Buena Vista and Lakeside Union school districts, for example, a spot isn't necessarily guaranteed.

"All we can guarantee is what we currently have," said Gerrie Kincaid, assistant superintendent of educational services.

Lakeside Superintendent Nick Kouklis, who hosts only one job share class, said now there's an "inherent risk" and is hesitant to add more classes.

As for Skenfield and Kennedy, their class is working perfectly and they don't plan to work full-time soon, they said.

Student drawings hang from their desk, and students dedicate their art to both teachers.

"To Mrs. Kennedy and Mrs. Skenfield," they read.