Teaching Tips Tuesday: Advice for Co-Teaching in the English Classroom

A Korean public elementary school.

Co-teaching can be an incredibly fulfilling experience for our Greenheart Travel English teachers overseas. It can also present certain challenges and frustrations when learning how to navigate your role and responsibilities.

Ideally, in our teach abroad programs such as South Korea and Colombia, Greenheart Travelers equally collaborate with local teachers in and out of the classroom to effectively instruct their students. However, what your role as an English Teacher will be, and what role(s) your co-teacher(s) will play could vary greatly from school to school and individual teacher to teacher.

Below is advice from some of our current teachers, as well as alumni, for a successful co-teaching role in the English classroom.


Gina DiBenedetto – EPIK English Teacher in South Korea

What was your role in the English classroom?

Teaching with a co-teacher can be either a rewarding or stressful situation. In my case, I experienced both over the course of my year in Seoul. When I arrived, my initial co-teacher allowed me to ease into the role. I would teach the vocabulary/key expressions and she would lead the games and activities. It was a match made in heaven. But, soon after I began, she moved.

Once she left, I took over as the main teacher in the classroom, with my new co-teacher assisting with translations and classroom management. At first it was a hard adjustment, but I came to enjoy being the lead teacher in the room.

However, after a few months, we really started to clash and it made work very tense. All of our problems were due to a lack of communication and a language barrier. I ended that semester feeling really down about work and not looking forward to the next.

An English teacher in the classroom with students in South Korea.

Gina in a classroom with her Korean students.

What advice do you have for working with co-teachers?

My biggest piece of advice is to make sure you communicate openly with your co-teachers, and to not be afraid to suggest some ideas that may be out of the norm for them. In my second semester, I was determined to have open communication with my new co-teachers, so we set up weekly meetings to plan what we would teach, and who would take each part of the lesson. It worked out well because we were always organized and proactive about planning lessons.

As I had no formal teaching experience outside of my TEFL course, I really learned a lot from both of my co-teachers about how to structure a productive class. And I was able to provide a fresh perspective and suggest new and exciting activities to try. The second semester went extremely well because I was no longer stressed and walking on eggshells around my colleagues.

Teachers and students wearing Halloween costumes in Korea.

Gina with her co-teacher and students in South Korea.

What was your overall co-teaching experience like?

My co-teachers were my lifelines while trying to figure out this strange and exciting new country. By the time I left Korea, I had very fond memories of my times spent both in the classroom and out with my co-teachers. Working as a team definitely led our students to be more respectful of us, and to have more fun learning English.

“Teaching with a co-teacher can be great, horrible, or anywhere in between, but having an open mind and a willingness to listen and learn will allow you to make the most of any situation!”

Grant Bouwer – Hagwon English Teacher in South Korea

What was your role in the English classroom?

My co-teacher experience was a little unique in the English academy (hagwon) I worked at. I shared the same students as my co-teacher, but we never taught at the same time and my co-teacher was never in the classroom with me. My responsibilities were to teach the reading, writing and listening workbooks while my Korean co-teacher would teach English grammar and vocabulary.

I saw myself as more than just an English teacher while in Korea. My personal goal each day was to make sure my students were enjoying life while learning English. I knew my main responsibility was to ensure the students were continually learning English, but I also wanted to make sure my classroom was more than just memorizing words. I wanted my students to laugh, feel comfortable, and have fun while gaining the language skills.

What advice do you have for working with co-teachers?

My advice would be to always keep the lines of communication between you and your co-teachers open. Your Korean co-teachers are extremely helpful when dealing with situations within the classroom, whether it’s a troublesome student or a student that may be falling behind. I was always able to speak with my co-teachers about students who were having difficulty. Their knowledge, advice and constant communication with the students’ parents were of great help.

A group of hagwon teachers in South Korea.

Grant with fellow teachers at his hagwon in Korea.

Katie Splean – EPIK English Teacher in South Korea

What is your role in the English classroom?

I have taught in smaller, rural schools, which for the most part give me complete control over my classes. Initially, it was a bit overwhelming, as I was expecting to have my hand held and be introduced to the deep end a little more gradually. But, I quickly figured out how to swim and ended up loving having the freedom to conduct my classes as I wished!

What advice do you have for working with co-teachers?

My biggest tip on working with co-teachers is the oft-repeated “communication”. It’s important to meet with each individual teacher because within the same school, if you teach alongside different people, you may have very different roles with each class.

Inside an English classroom in South Korea.

An inside look at an English classroom in Korea.

When I ran into difficulty engaging a particular class, for which my co-teacher was often absent and rarely active in the class when present, I devised a special project that required me to meet with the co-teacher outside of class. It ended up strengthening our relationship, and the pivot away from the textbook brought about a change. So, the second semester with that class went a lot better than the first.

  • If something being requested of you makes you uncomfortable, you can find a tactful way to try and explain a compromise that would appease both you and your co-teacher. At the end of the day; however, as long as they’re not violating the contract, you should do what your co-teacher wants.
  • If frustrations arise throughout the course of your experience, try and stay on good terms with your co-teachers so that you can feel more comfortable and get better results from discussing issues with them.
  • If you have any really strong issues, talk with your district or regional coordinator. They should be able to give you further insight about cultural differences which may be causing the issue(s).

Chase Chisholm – English Teacher in South Korea and Myanmar

What was your role in the English classroom?

I generally took the lead during the lessons I instructed, but my co-teachers were always by my side, very helpful and interactive – especially with translation, explanation, and classroom discipline. My responsibility was quite clear. I focused mostly on speaking and listening activities, but I also saw myself as a cultural ambassador of sorts. Bringing bits and pieces of traditions from the United States into each of my lessons, English camps, and after school programs all the while immersing myself in these cultural aspects of Korea and Myanmar was really neat.

An EPIK teacher with co-teachers in South Korea.

Chase with his Korean co-teachers.

I see the role of a and English teacher abroad as very versatile, and not necessarily as the expert of the language. Chances are your coworkers may actually know English even better than you, at least how to describe and teach it to students more effectively. A native English speaker is a link to more natural communication, and a way to bridge a gap between language barriers and facilitate cross-cultural exchange.

What was your overall co-teaching experience like?

I absolutely loved my experience teaching English overseas, and I particularly found collaborating with co-teachers in and out of the classroom to be quite satisfying. It’s imperative that mutual respect between you and your local colleagues be maintained in order to have a successful time teaching abroad.

Ami Wright – EPIK English Teacher in South Korea

What is your role in the English classroom?

I teach four different grades, and I have a different co-teacher for each. My co-teachers meet with me once a week to discuss the next lesson, and they tell me which parts of the lesson I need to plan for. Two of my teachers have me plan only the game portions of the lessons every week. My other two co-teachers have me go back and forth between leading the entire lesson one week, and managing classroom behaviors the next.

In every lesson my co-teachers rely on me to introduce new phrases and sounds so the students are able to hear the correct pronunciation. I feel that the amount of work I do (such as creating games, making presentations, and writing lesson plans) is split pretty evenly with my co-teachers.

A Guest English Teacher with her Korean students.

Ami with a group of her students in South Korea.

What advice do you have for working with co-teachers?

Some of us have co-teachers that only want us to show up to class and say a few phrases when needed, while others have co-teachers that expect us to plan and teach the entire lesson every day. Therefore, I would say that your time in the classroom is what you make of it.

You may not have the teacher role you imagined, but you can set a goal and do your best to achieve it.

For example: My biggest goal as a teacher here is to help my students become more confident in speaking English.

  • If you have a stronger role as a teacher in the classroom, you can accomplish this by giving your students plenty of opportunities to practice speaking English through fun games and activities.
  • If you have a more restricted role in the classroom, you can make an effort to have conversations with your students in the hallways.

What was your overall co-teaching experience like?

Because I have taught in my own classroom in the United States, it was difficult for me at first to share the teacher role. Once I got used to each of my co-teachers’ styles; however, I was able to appreciate working with another teacher.

My advice for someone else would be to be very patient and understand that good things take time. The language barrier makes it quite difficult to create a strong connection with your students and coworkers at first. I got very down during my first few months here because I felt like I was never going to connect with my students the way I connected with my students in the USA. I realized that I needed to stop complaining about this lack of connection and do something to change it. That’s when I started to make the effort to get to know my students and fellow teachers more.


Keep in mind your co-teachers are not only going to be there to help guide you, but also to learn about exciting activities, different instructional approaches, and new teaching methodologies from you. And in the end, you will undoubtedly gain an abundance of classroom best practices from them as well. Be realistic with your expectations of what your role as a co-teacher will be, and respect the knowledge and experience of your colleagues just as they will highly regard yours.

Have you co-taught before? What advice would you give for working alongside co-teachers in the English classroom? 

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