While most of the classes that students take at Mount Saint Joseph High School are taught by a singular, dedicated teacher, the elective of Philosophy has not one, but two teachers: Mr. Clay Bonham and Mr. Michael O’Donnell. It makes Philosophy stand out in this respect, but why aren’t more classes taught by multiple teachers?
“You get two teachers for the price of one. Hearing the same teacher every single day gets a little old, you start to zone out to the voices. I think bringing in new people and different perspectives definitely enhances the class.”Mr. Clay Bonham
Both teachers have worked amiably with each other over the years of co-teaching the course. Mr. O’Donnell is officially registered as the course’s teacher, but both have an equal role in the administration and grading of the class assignments.
I, in fact, signed up for the course of Philosophy this year, both teachers being familiar faces to me. Mr. Bonham did my admissions interview and Mr. O’Donnell runs the Classic Film Club that I was a part of prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It takes a little bit of flexibility,” said Mr. Bonham, co-teacher of the Philosophy course. “Teachers by nature are territorial with their classrooms.” Mr. Bonham, himself a Theology teacher, along with Mr. O’Donnell, have a background of teaching philosophic units in their previous classrooms before making Philosophy an elective itself.
“Mainly it was Aristotle and virtue.” He said, when referring to philosophic teachings in Theology. Many Catholic theologians, such as Saint Thomas Aquinas, based their writings and beliefs upon the philosophical sayings of Aristotle.
In order to successfully share a class with a teacher, both must have a friendly relationship, and an ability to work well together. “It certainly helps that you get along with the person you’re co-teaching with.” Mr. Bonham and Mr. O’Donnell share a close friendship that resonates in the lessons they teach.
“I think students kind of pick up on that we’re friends.” Mr. Bonham said, “There’s several philosophers Mr. O’Donnell enjoys, and I do not, and so that flexibility really comes into play. This is your guy, you take this person, and overall we’re on the same page 80% to 90% of the time.”
The co-teaching setup does have its benefits, as Mr. Bonham explains, “You get two teachers for the price of one. Hearing the same teacher every single day gets a little old, you start to zone out to the voices. I think bringing in new people and different perspectives definitely enhances the class.”
“That idea really came from the Theology Department,” Assistant Principal Greg McDivitt commented, “that’s how that class was proposed as an elective.”
“Having a co-teacher helps to mitigate the challenges of lesson planning, assessment creation, and grading,” he said. “It really makes it fluid.” Having a co-teacher provides different opinions and thoughts, and enables the student to hear perspectives from different teachers.
“The main challenge singleton classes (only meet once per day) like Philosophy present is that a lot of different students request a lot of different courses,” Mr. McDivitt said. Speaking about the logistics behind creating schedules, “there’s never a year where everyone gets every class they want to take.”
When asked whether other classes might benefit from having multiple teachers, Mr. McDivitt said, “Absolutely. There are benefits to being able to work with colleagues and to share the work and share the perspective and learn from one another. Philosophy is successful due to the fact that it’s an elective where there is some room for creativity, and that it’s relatively small scale in terms of scheduling.”
Both Mr. McDivitt and Mr. Bonham recommended the concept of co-teaching. It has been tested and proven as long as both teachers have the time and share a sense of trust that co-teaching can work, and from a personal standpoint of being a student in the class, I can say that it works well.