The Disadvantages of Interdisciplinary Teams in the Classroom

Effective interdisciplinary teams are built from teachers who like each other, work well together and share similar beliefs about teaching.

Interdisciplinary team-teaching is an educational strategy in which two or more teachers from multiple disciplines work together on curriculum design, classroom instruction and student evaluation. The team can be assigned to work together for a year or more. Although it is a familiar and practiced strategy at all levels of the school curriculum, there is some disagreement about whether interdisciplinary team teaching is the best approach for effective curriculum delivery.

1 Time Demands

Team teaching demands more time and energy from faculty. In addition to their own individual preparation time, teachers need to schedule time to plan for the team. Mutually convenient times must be found for discussing and evaluating students. Re-conceptualizing courses to integrate the team-teaching method is also complex and time consuming.

2 Personality Issues

When teachers are placed on interdisciplinary teams with teachers they don’t like, there can be personality issues. This is especially true if they have just been on a strong, high functioning team for a number of years, and the principal decides to reconfigure the teams. Some teachers have rigid personalities and want to stick to a single method of teaching. Others feel threatened by the skills of other teachers, don’t want to share their teaching secrets, or fear they will be paid the same salary for more work.

3 Some Teachers Are Left Out

As core teachers of language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies are teamed up, teachers of elective classes such as art, physical education, music and business can be left to teach in isolation.

4 Integration Confusion

Some students do better in highly structured environments that favor repetition and familiarity. Some are confused by the seemingly conflicting opinions that may be introduced by interdisciplinary teams. Too much variety in the classroom may hinder habit formation for these students.

5 Budget Considerations

Teacher salaries may need to start reflecting the additional responsibilities carried out by team members. School budgets already suffering from cutbacks would have to see interdisciplinary team teaching as a priority, take the time to solicit community support, and find ways -- such as enlarging class sizes -- to meet increased costs.

6 Resistance to Change

Dr. Vincent Anfara, Jr., author of “The Handbook of Research in Middle Level Education,” explains that teaching as part of an interdisciplinary team involves change, and some teachers will resist change. They may defend their individual classroom autonomy and resist efforts to involve them in collaborative projects with other teachers. Teachers who perceive themselves as specialists in delivering particular content may stubbornly resist efforts to integrate their content area with others.

7 Other Disadvantages

Other disadvantages of interdisciplinary teaching include: a higher level of difficulty in grouping students according to ability; the time and budget required to accommodate the need for interdisciplinary teacher training; problems in obtaining support from central administration, parents, and the community; and overcoming problems with building designs that inhibit division of classrooms according to teams.

Lorena Cassady has written professionally since 1982. She was an instructor and mentor teacher for a Bachelor of Arts in management program and has administered a home-health agency. She has been published in "Traveler's Tales" and holds a Master of Arts in English and creative writing from San Francisco State University. Cassady is bilingual.