Being a teacher is hard! There are so many demands to handle daily. This includes tons of paperwork, data collection, and planning amazing lessons. These aspects are behind the scenes to the most important part of school: the students! Honestly, they make all the stress disappear as their smiling faces enter the classroom. In addition to outstanding students, I am so lucky to teach with a fantastic co-teacher. This means all of our students have 2 students with them! Honestly, there are so many benefits of co-teaching!
What is a Co-Teaching Classroom?
My district has co-teaching classrooms for Special Education and English as Second Language. This means that there are 2 teachers in the room all day, every day. There is no pushing in or pulling out. Instead, all students remain under the support of both teachers at all times.
The Decision Behind this Change
Teachers completely understand the frustration of changing policies. This seems to happen each year. However, the benefits of co-teaching will make this change well worth the time and adjustment!
Our district decided to do this because it allows the special education students to be with general education peer models. Inclusion is essential! Students learn to collaborate, communicate, and compromise with the help of both teachers.
Teachers will see there are so many benefits of co-teaching. However, parents and community members might take some time to adjust. My district made this change when I was in elementary school. My mom recently told me that when this change happened, many parents were unhappy. Honestly, I’m sure they were scared their child was not going to receive enough help or services. Adjustment takes time. Thankfully, parents are now loving that their child gets 2 teachers. Likewise, they love how their child is part of a supportive environment with all students.
Co-teaching is based on needs. If there is a grade level at a school without students receiving special education services, there won’t be co-teaching. At my school, there seem always to be special education students in each grade. Therefore, we always have at least 1 special education co-teaching class per grade level. It will be necessary for teachers to be flexible as there may be on and off years with co-teaching.
What Does Co-Teaching Look Like?
Co-teaching is similar to many aspects of education. There is no one right way for it to be done. Ultimately, it will depend on the 2 teachers and their collaboration. However, the general education teacher and the special education teacher are in the classroom all day. They are both fully the teachers. Notably, one is NOT the assistant. Honestly, this can be hard with certain people and depending on the situation. In our district, the co-teachers are both viewed as the lead teachers. We also discussed this at the beginning of the year. Communication is key!!
It is essential to let parents understand the benefits of co-teaching as well. We stress that parents view both as the lead teacher because we set that standard from the beginning. All communication comes from both of us. We encourage parents to email us both all the time.
Co-teachers both teach and are responsible for ALL of the kids. Now, the special education teacher is responsible for the special education student’s IEPs and data. They are specially trained to do this. However, both teachers support every student in the classroom. Additionally, the general education teacher also attends every IEP meeting.
It is so important to be mindful of class size. The teachers must be able to meet the needs of every student. Thus, we have up to 8 students with IEPs in the classroom of about 20 students. If we get more, we need an assistant in the room.
For the most part, the classroom functions like any other class. However, there are a few exceptions. This includes there being more small group opportunities since there are 2 teachers. Additionally, we have data collection that is separate from testing data. Then, the special education teacher take the data for the student’s IEP goals.
When making class lists for the next year, teachers strategically place role models in the in-class resource classes. Honestly, this is so helpful for students on IEPs to see students working so hard. Additionally, they see students who are not making excuses but figuring out ways to complete all assignments. Best of all, the role model students love to help students on an IEP. This creates excellent collaboration and partnerships.
It is important to note that we do have resource room teachers and classes at our school. Students who need more support than what we can provide for them in the inclusion classroom get pulled out to the resource room. This is for whatever subject they need that extra support. The special education teacher co-teacher and the resource room teacher work very closely. The hope is that the students in the resource room receive services that help them get back to the general education classroom.
There are so many benefits of co-teaching. However, both teachers need to keep a few things in mind for it to be successful.
- First, both must understand each other’s backgrounds. For instance, my co-teacher has taught general educational 2nd and 3rd grade for over 20 years. I’ve been teaching Pre-K special education for 3 years. We have very different backgrounds and years of experience. Thus, understanding how different those two things are and being ready to mix the experiences makes co-teaching special.
- Second, communication is critical. You are essentially getting married, moving in together, and you have 20+ kids. On top of this, every decision you make affects the other person and all of your kids. So, you have to be honest with each other. Don’t hesitate to bring things up to the other person. An open, honest dialogue is essential to successful co-teaching.
- Third, set aside one day a week to sit down and talk. This is a time to plan and create lessons together. It is also a time to problem solve what is not working. Or, plan extra assistance for students who are struggling. Lastly, this is a time to be honest if anything is bothering you.
- Fourth, don’t be scared to switch up the routine. This may be reading rotations, math centers, and flexible grouping. Ultimately, the decisions have to reflect the best fit for your class and the needs of students.
- Fifth, play on each other’s strengths. No one is perfect! For instance, there may be one person who likes teaching math and one who prefers reading. Divide and conquer! For example, I taught math and sci/ss for one year, and my co-teacher taught the 3 ELA blocks. She loves ELA, and I was new to 2nd grade, so this worked! This was also during distance/hybrid, so everything was a whole group. Now, since we use so many small groups, we both kind of teach everything. At one point we even made a chart of each of our responsibilities during each time of the day. This helped keep us both accountable AND we knew that the other person knew what they had to do because we discussed it!!
Thoughts on Co-Teaching from Gen Ed Standpoint
It is helpful to look at prior feedback when making a change in education. Here is actual feedback from my 1st grade co-teaching friend.
- “Co-teaching is exciting!” Students open up so well when they receive support. They have the funniest stories to share and are so fun to be around.
- This teacher talked about so many benefits of co-teaching. This includes giving kids more attention and sharing ideas with the other teacher. Most importantly, it provides two people who love kids just as much as you do!
- Understandably, it is essential to be flexible. Plan to learn from the other teacher. Honestly, both adults bring so much to the table and co-teach for a reason.
- There will be several IEP meetings throughout the year. Special education teachers need to keep general education teachers informed. This will help everyone be ready for meetings when it is time.
- “Communication is key!” It needs to be open. Do not tip toe around! This will not create a solid partnership to provide the best education for students. Begin by starting off the school year with expectations.
BONUS!!! My friend and fellow co-teacher, Rachel, gave me this survey to share with all of you. She gives it to her co-teacher before starting the year so that she can get to know them. She has had many co-teachers over the past 4 years and has said it is a HUGE help!! Try it out! HERE IS THE SURVEY!
There are so many benefits of co-teaching! Students will love having 2 teachers at all times. Best of all, ALL students are part of the classroom and included in all activities. Yes, the content may be slightly different within centers, but 20+ students support each other. While co-teaching takes work and compromise from the teachers, it will be one of the most rewarding experiences for all involved.
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