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It’s time to address the ‘elephant in the room’. Special and general education teachers must actively engage in open, honest communication. The worse thing any teacher can endure as a co-teacher is showing up for your co-teaching experience each day feeling like a visitor in the class and like the students, you eagerly wait to discover the day’s lesson. On the flip side, I suspect having a certified teacher show up to your class each day, or when they feel like it, who adds little to no value to the learning environment can’t be too much fun either. In either case, I imagine that the practice of co-teaching has gotten a bad rap by well-meaning teachers who experience some form of the aforementioned situation. Generally, experiences such as these occur due to a lack of communication and not because you have two uncaring, lazy, poor teachers. When co-teachers communicate effectively with one another fewer misunderstandings occur that create friction between them, waste time and valuable human resources.

Co-teachers should think of their relationship as a construction site. You would not expect construction workers to show up for work without tools to build a strong foundation and eventually a sturdy building. Likewise, co-teachers should show up for their co-teacher experience with a tool box full of tools that will help them to successfully build a strong foundation in their relationship and later a successful environment where students are learning.

When establishing and/or improving the relationship between co-teachers, we must remember that “teamwork makes dreams work.” All teachers enter the field of education with a dream to educate and impart wisdom to our youth. We are all on the same team, although we may play different positions. The key component of any successful team is the communication between the people that make up that team. Moreover, one of the tools that co-teachers most keep in their tool box is the tool of communication.

Communicating with your co-teacher may sound easy enough, but for most it’s the furthest thing from being easy.  Many times teachers just don’t know where to start and as a result end up starting nowhere. The following is a good place to begin. Try communicating with your co-teacher by discussing your views regarding these:

Discuss how each of you imagines your co-teaching to actually look. Research the definition of co-teaching and the different co-teaching methods. There are 6 popular methods found here. Ideally, co-teaching teams should model a combination of these different approaches as their relationship grows and as they get used to working with each other. In addition, you should also let the needs of your students (both general and students with disabilities) dictate what methods you are using.

Discuss the classroom management. Share with each other some of the procedures and processes you have used in the past for ensuring that the classroom lessons run smoothly. Developing techniques and strategies together with your co-teacher can ensure that each of you have ownership and a stake in creating a successful cooperative learning environment for your students.

Discuss personal strengths and weaknesses. Student with disabilities aren’t the only ones who have strengths and weaknesses that need to be identified. It’s important to discuss what your strengths and weaknesses are with each other so that you can trade each other’s weaknesses for each other’s strengths. For example, regular education teachers may have strengths in pacing the curriculum while the special education teacher may have strengths in differentiating instruction.

Discuss roles & responsibilities. All partners have a particular role or responsibility. As co-teachers you should agree on what those roles and responsibilities are or will be pertaining to your co-teaching relationship.

Once you have discussed the above, you are well on your well to establishing or improving your co-teaching relationship. It’s important to be open and honesty. Just like with all successful communication, be willing to listen and to make compromises for the good of the relationship.

What other tools are in your co-teaching tool box that has added in your co-teaching experience?


The LD Coach

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  1. My first two years as a teacher was a middle school math co-teaching experience in an inner city school. Most people tell me that I am very easy to get a long with. I say what is on my mind but listen to what others have to say. My first year, I co-taught with a master teacher. It really felt like student teaching all over again, but I feel without her I wouldn’t have made it…the students were extremely difficult, but with her guidance I made it through. I can’t honestly give her all the credit, because I had a group of teachers and a principal who helped me through it all.
    My second year a taught with a different teacher who was older, but had the same number of years of teaching. Her and I worked so well with each other. We finished each others sentences, shared the work load, and became really great friends.
    Co-teaching I believe is a great gift. My greatest advice is don’t be selfish…don’t think of it is “my classroom”, but as “our classroom”. Share your amazing ideas and tell your partner to share theirs. It is a two way street, make the best of it. For me it was the best, I had less work than teachers who were by themselves, there was always one of us who took a group of kids of to the side, who were struggling to work with them. Don’t let your day be miserable, but by thinking of it as being the best teaching experience you could ever have.
    I am in my third year of teaching and this year I am teaching by myself. I am handling it extremely well, but I miss my co-teaching partner everyday, even though she is right down the hall. Think of co-teaching as a marriage, you will probably disagree on somethings, but you need to remember you are both in this together. Two heads are ALWAYS better than one!!

  2. This is, of course, easier said than done. But admin leadership is the key. The best years I had as a Resource Specialist coincided with administrators who had also been Resource Specialists. Collaboration takes the soul of a secretary of state, the expertise of a Navy Seal, and a no-joke type B personality. But it is all for the kids, so it's all good.

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