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January 1, 2019

How to Make Co-Teaching Work

What comes to mind when your administrator states you will be co-teaching this year? Right away, we think, when will I have the time to plan? Does that mean more work? Will the co-teacher and I get along? Will our instructional beliefs match?

We often become fearful of the unknown. We have to be open for change and ready to relinquish half of the responsibilities to another teacher, which means you’re not solely in control anymore. This can be especially challenging when you have taught the same subject matter for many years alone.

Often, time is a factor in co-teaching, the ability to meet and plan for the instruction can be unavailable or time consuming. So, if the school creates a planning period for the teacher and special educator in their daily schedule, this can reduce and sometimes eliminate meeting before or after school.

Co-teaching, mainstreaming, and inclusion are all good practices in providing the best way to support students with disabilities with the collaboration efforts of both the general and special education teacher. “This allows both teachers to work off of each other to form a cohesive way of teaching that benefits not only special education students, but also the general student population.” according from Emily Stark, University of Wisconsin-River Falls. 

Both teachers provide expertise in their subject matters and an environment that encompasses all students’ needs without the exclusion of students with emotional or learning disabilities. It keeps students’ integrity in place and provides the best instruction.

As any teacher can guess, co-teaching is great, but there are some key factors to consider when co-teaching with another educator. You definitely will want to jump into action but remember, you might be stepping into a veteran teacher’s classroom, so baby steps might be necessary at first.

Tips to Make Co-Teaching Successful

Building Trust

As you begin the journey of co-teaching, trust is a key component to make this relationship work. You have to trust that the co-teacher has the same beliefs. With the trust, so comes the flexibility to give up some control when teaching. That is the hard part. The relationship can only build when you spend time learning about each other’s strengths and challenges in teaching a particular subject area. This builds a mutual respect between the co-teachers.

My co-teacher, Stephanie Rubinstein, was a veteran teacher with the passion for math and definitely the heart to help every student. Her personality was vibrant and direct. Our initial co-teaching experience started off with me in the background just making sure students were on task and giving some redirection.

At first, I can admit, I was intimidated and didn’t want to cross into her lane when she taught. This definitely was not what I expected co-teaching to be, but it got better. Ms. Rubinstein and I started to have conversations about our professional background, and we found that mutual respect for each other’s strengths and weakness in our math skill sets. We eventually planned and discussed ways for both of us to be more involved and learned to mix up the roles in the class. She felt comfortable after a couple months to loosen the reins and let me do some of the teaching. We eventually became equal partners in the classroom.

Splitting Up Responsibility

Teachers’ responsibilities are growing. It is becoming very overwhelming to keep up with the demands in and out of the classroom setting. Co-teaching can reduce that stress by sharing the responsibilities and taking the burden off one teacher to accomplish all those tasks. You can work on splitting up the tasks of daily routines, which could include creating materials, student feedback, parent phone calls, and grading. It’s important to also keep track of the to-dos by sharing a working document like Google Docs or Word that you both can add to and share information for the week’s lessons. It keeps both parties accountable and no overlaps in the responsibilities.

Two Heads Are Better Than One

With two teachers in the classroom, the students could connect with different personalities and more opportunities to work with a teacher in small groups or one-on-one rather than the same teacher always pulling out the students with IEPs. It gives opportunity for both teachers to work with students directly and demonstrate the value of both teachers as facilitators in the classroom community.

As the years progressed in that co-teaching setting, Ms. Rubinstein and I improved in our method, and our students recognized that we were a team. We could communicate the same messages to the class (united front), we would find more time to meet and improve our lessons, and we provided a safe environment for the students’ to learn and grow. They felt comfortable coming to either one of us with questions or concerns. It was no longer Ms. Rubinstein’s algebra class, it was our class. A good example of a co-teaching classroom is when the class views it as a collaborative environment and you can’t distinguish between the general education or the special education teacher.

Open Communication In and Out of the Classroom

“This is a detail that speaks volumes about your co-teaching partnership: Do you say ‘we’ or ‘I’ when introducing an assignment to students? As you communicate in the classroom, it is important to remember that you and your co-teacher are the students’ teacher,” according to Ariel Sacks, middle school and freshman ELA teacher.

Being conscious when presenting instructions to the class and that you are making decisions together, not just one teacher’s decision. The “we” statements are very important in showing the class that you have an equal partnership. Important to communicate in front of the students as ways to show them that you are working together for them. If something is not working, it’s best not to discuss that in front of the classroom, make time to check in with one-another on how the co-teaching is going. Again, some conversations will benefit the classroom and some will hinder the trust and the growth among professionals. Important to speak often and work out the kinks out of students’ ear shot.

Just remember that the co-teaching relationship is always evolving. The best advice is work together towards the same goal, which is providing the best experiences and instruction for all students.


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