It Takes Two to Tango: 10 Steps to Good Co-teacher Relations

It Takes Two to Tango
10 Steps to Good Co-teacher Relations

Blake Bouchard
by Blake Bouchard 10,046 views

Many ESL teachers, especially in Korea and other areas of Asia, share their classroom with an English teacher from that country.

These co-teachers help translate in class, share the marking, help with discipline, and often are tasked with helping the native English teacher negotiate the school bureaucracy and the local culture. This means that poor relations with a co-teacher can quickly make an ESL teacher’s life very unpleasant. Here are a few tips for smooth sailing with your co-t.

Build Up Effective Relationships with Colleagues Using These Ideas

  1. 1


    Seems simple right? That’s because it is. Nobody likes a sour puss. Smile and be friendly. It will take you a very long way.

  2. 2

    You Don’t Know Who Came Before

    It’s going to take a while for you to understand the context of your co-teacher’s reactions, and the truth is, they might not be that enthusiastic about having you with them in the classroom. A lot of English teachers only stay a year and some make it clear that teaching is just a means to a year-long vacation for them. Even if you are an amazing teacher it will take a while for your co-teacher to be sure of the fact that you are not another yahoo like your predecessor. Frosty attitudes might have less to do with who you are and more to do with what you represent when you first arrive.

  3. 3

    Different Culture-Different Expectations

    Coming mostly from western cultures, ESL teachers have a pretty firm idea of what the workplace expectations are in that context.

    Expectations vary culture to culture. For example, in Korea, your principal has a massive amount of control over the teachers compared with most western nations. A suggestion from them is not a suggestion, it’s a direction. Now, places will make exceptions for you as a foreigner, but the sooner you learn what is actually happening the more able you will be to at least understand why you are getting odd looks for not attending that meeting where you won’t understand a word that is spoken.

  4. 4

    Take an Interest

    Everyone likes to feel like their colleagues are interested in them and their lives. Ask questions (politely) about what your co-teacher will be doing on the weekends and evenings. Where did they grow up, do they like teaching, do they have any kids? Before you start asking questions though, try to get a sense for what types of questions are culturally acceptable. For instance, often things that are completely hands-off in the west (age) are the first questions asked in hierarchical cultures where age is important in determining social station.

  5. 5

    Get Involved

    School staff will occasionally get together for coffee or drinks. Ask about these outings, try to finagle an invitation. In the event you are invited make every effort to attend. Also, get involved as much as possible with activities within the school. Does everyone gather for coffee at a certain time? Show up, try and participate in the conversation, or even just listen. Sometimes, just being present makes a difference.

  6. 6


    This does not mean shower your co-teacher with presents. Little things like bringing in snacks and/or coffee for the office. Make the gifts small and fitting. Know that many cultures see giving these small tokens as a sign of respect and appreciation. Bring a small gift for your co-teacher on special occasions regardless of which of your cultures those occasions are based in.

  7. 7

    Take an Interest in the Culture and Language

    Ask questions about the culture. People appreciate it when you make an effort to understand and adjust to the culture around you rather than expecting everyone to adjust to your expectations and cultural norms. Try to learn snippets of the language from your co-teacher. There are some occasions when a co-teacher seems stand-offish simply because they are a little shy about their English pronunciation. Making a ton of mistakes trying to learn their language will help put them at ease with their own abilities.

  8. 8

    Try to Switch Perspectives

    This can be pretty difficult, but when there is a conflict, make an effort to look at it from their perspective. Understand that it may very well be that this foreigner shows up, takes up some of their class time, doesn’t understand the way things work here, and is now blundering around and making a royal mess of things. It’s important to understand that you might actually be the bull in the china shop. Recognizing that (and stopping all thrashing) is the first step to figuring out how to disentangle yourself without causing further damage.

  9. 9

    This Might Not Be Their Idea

    Co-teachers are often the bearers of bad news. If your co-teacher is one of the few people in your school who speak English, they might just be the messenger, and I think there is some rule about shooting messengers. Things get lost in translation. Their boss might be coming down on them because you broke a rule you did not know was there (or did and chose to ignore) and now they have to tell you. The fact that they are doing all of this in their second language and under stress means that the message might not come across the way they intended.

  10. q

    No Matter How Right You Are, You Still Might Be Wrong

    Their proposal makes no sense. Your answer is perfectly logical … to you. What they want would create massive amounts of extra, unnecessary work, possibly be detrimental for the students, and doesn’t make sense! Guess what? Within the context of their country and this job they are right. The key is to not fight for lost causes and to understand that your co-teacher is not being malicious. They are likely as frustrated by your resistance as you are by their insistence. Don’t be bitter. It’s part of that adventure you were after. Shrug it off and move on.


Now there is a chance that even if you follow all of these tips, things will not be all butterflies and unicorns.

Some personalities just don’t get along. But, if you try all of these, you should at least be able to work with the person without one of you killing the other. Bad co-teacher relationships are not that common. So, new teachers: go in with an open mind. That way, it’s more likely that you will have a year (or more) of happy friendship ahead of you!

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