Teaching in twos

Two heads are better than one, especially in Jill Niebrugge-Brantley and Patricia Lengermann’s classical sociological theory class.

The two “team-teach” the class, a rarity at GW. It is unlike the relationship between a teacher’s assistant and a professor. The pair finish each other’s sentences, complement each other’s points and lead discussions together.

Niebrugge-Brantley and Lengermann are considered experts on the subject of team-teaching. They jointly wrote an article called “Course Is Team Taught: Dimensions of Differences in Classroom Pedagogy,” which compares team to solo teaching. They have also team taught at five schools including American University and University of Iowa.

Last Thursday, Lengermann started the class by discussing three theories of sociology as Niebrugge-Brantley wrote her main points on the board. When Niebrugge-Brantley introduced Compte, a sociological theorist, Lengermann finished her sentence about the metaphysical theory. As one finished speaking, the other polished off her point.

But it’s hard to team-teach a class, Lengermann said. It’s not easy “unless you’ve planned it out together and taught it together so many times. We write together. We live together. We teach together. We feel comfortable that way.”

The two teach together, but they are also a couple living together.

“Sometimes Pat will say, ‘I don’t think that’s quite clear.’ Or the other person will pick up that the students are confused,” Niebrugge-Brantley said. “It’s an effective dynamic for us.”

The two professors have very different personalities: Niebrugge-Brantley was born in Southern California and said she believes hard work and perseverance are the key to success in life.

“I’m a WASP, and Pat’s so Caribbean,” said Niebrugge-Brantley, who considers herself “ethically Protestant.” She said she believes in hard work and discipline.

Lengermann laughed at that and said that because she comes from the Caribbean, she does not have the same approach to hard work.

“I don’t live to work but work to live. I’m very pragmatic,” Lengermann said.

The teaching duo combines two very different work ethics, but they have found a way to teach together for more than 20 years. The pair admit that they are not without their differences.

“We’ll have a good fight over how we’re going to do something. But because we know each other so well, fighting is easier,” Niebrugge-Brantley said.

“We fight more over the writing,” Lengermann said, referring to the numerous articles they have published together in their many years of teaching.

Lengermann said that most universities don’t have forms to fill out for team-teaching. When filling out employment forms at GW, the two had “to make something and stick it together with Scotch tape.”

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