What do the names Costello, Teller, and Pepa have in common? They are incomplete on their own. Abbott doesn’t exist without Costello, Penn without Teller, and Salt without Pepa. The success of these dynamic duos stems from their harmony together. One does not exist at the same level of greatness without the other’s contribution.
Few careers operate with much expectation for autonomous individuals handling all the work. Teamwork is crucial in our society. That being the case, why are teachers expected to accomplish pedagogical mastery in their classroom as a solo act? A classroom with at least two teachers can finally function with the same benefit of teamwork found in most other fields, duplicating the amount of groundwork that can be covered in a set amount of time.
This isn’t to say that some solo acts are not successful, but we all know any one-person show doesn’t function without a team of helping hands reaching out from behind the curtain. Sure, we collaborate and share exercises and techniques, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are primarily alone in our classrooms, acting as everything from teacher to counselor, lion tamer to entertainer.
The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development shared a description of the timeless complaint made by new teachers:
“Almost 50 years ago, Lortie likened the new teacher to Robinson Crusoe, marooned on a desert island and facing the challenges of survival alone. In a more recent study, Johnson found that new teachers often feel lost at sea, with little or no guidance from colleagues or curriculum.”
The struggle to find your footing doesn’t last forever though. Most teachers find a comfortable rhythm somewhere between 5-10 years. Even then, it takes decades to attain the highest levels of proficiency as an educator. What about all of the time lost to inexperience? Teachers will improve, but students never get that time back. The answer to this problem: co-teaching.
“School organizations often assume that co-teaching is simply placing two teachers in the same classroom while hoping this new relationship works well for themselves and the students.”
This dysfunctional perception of co-teaching leaves plenty of room for doubt, but with a different approach, we can reignite the possibilities brought on by co-teaching in a standard classroom.
From the No Child Left Behind era, many forms of co-teaching came about. Parallel teaching, station teaching, alternative teaching, and team teaching, among others, all addressed needs solo teaching could not fill. Yet, the focus of co-teaching is on students with IEPs. Obviously, students with special needs should not have to sacrifice any of the modifications their learning styles necessitate. Special education--how to differentiate instruction to address less standardized forms of learning--is a practice that should be incorporated throughout more of the teacher training process. In addition, to successfully achieve an understanding of the curriculum among students who learn through more traditional approaches, a classroom requires more than one teacher too.
All students have needs of some kind, whether it be remediation or enrichment, and the range of needs can be daunting. That is where co-teachers come into play. Start with two teachers in a classroom and provide more as the need warrants it.
Public education’s construct for the dynamic of a classroom would benefit by leaning into a full-time partnership between two teachers. As it stands today, co-teaching looks like, as Murawski describes it, “an ‘arranged’ marriage, with no time for teachers to get to know one another, to learn how to co-teach, and to establish norms, goals and expectations that both can embrace.” If we make a commitment to a teaching partnership in every classroom, this problem no longer exists and a pair of teachers can evolve into a powerful team.The Future Is Co-Teaching Click To Tweet
The current methodology of co-teaching revolves around the introduction of a second teacher to a classroom with a high concentration of students with IEPs. The lead teacher remains the primary decision maker and is largely responsible for the outcome of the majority. Co-teachers do have plenty on their own plate, managing IEPs and providing the proper modifications any given day, but they could serve a greater purpose if shifted to a more equal partnership that seeks to balance the workload for both parties.
If you ask enough teachers what it is that makes teaching so difficult, you will eventually be marking tallies next to repeat answers. Constant changes from the administration. Immense amounts of grading. The various needs of students. Curriculum design. Due dates. Field trips. There seems to be a never-ending list of stressors.
These endless demands add up to the rarest of all teacher's resources: time.
“Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.”
― Auguste Rodin
The depth of the material you teach can only go as deep as the time you invest into it. If you are busy worrying about the amount of work you have, knowing that the mountain only grows, then you will never be able to navigate your teaching ability to its highest potential. If we are granted a teaching partner and the responsibilities are split, we will be able to slow down and focus on the most important matter: ensuring an individualized education that leads to mastery of the subject for every student.
This teaching partnership means twice the teacher, twice the intellectual firepower.
The lack of time is echoed throughout education, but in a field study that analyzed the effectiveness of co-teaching at the middle school level conducted by Hurd and Weilbacher, they found that participants of co-teaching appreciated the increased amount they had for planning, reaching, and assessment. Addressing the issue of time is almost as good as addressing every other issue at once--the more time we gain, the better we are at giving our time productively.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”
― Helen Keller
In a study on the effects of co-teaching in language development classes, led by Alcala, Comallonga, Sala, Galera, benefits were found in every aspect of education. The overall growth of teachers involved in co-teaching efforts grew exponentially faster than solo teachers. “Teachers receive valuable feedback from their co-teachers and it provides opportunities for professional growth.” We place incredible value on the importance of growing professionally and no other form of teaching contributes to personal and communal development as much as co-teaching. We should begin the process of developing effective co-teacher partnerships as early as teacher training begins and reevaluate the role of teachers and co-teachers.
The overall aim of this study was to determine the level of Classroom Interactional Competence (CIC), which is the idea of teachers and learners being able to connect at a conducive rate. The results represented just that. The implementation of co-teaching created “a safe, inclusive, and equitable learning environment for all students.” Far too often we struggle through the year creating inadequate relationships with our students and the curriculum. With co-teaching, you have a second personality in the class, a second opinion, a voice of support, and whatever else you might need to ensure a strong dynamic between the teachers, the students, and the content.
The shine of co-teaching’s versatility broke through in this study as well. When a student, or group of students, did not grasp a concept, “teachers spontaneously approached two other co-teaching modalities...” Problems during classwork can be solved quicker than ever before. The amount of ground that can be covered by partnering teachers is truly impressive. It is a partnership that isn’t lacking in benefits.
Students are the greatest beneficiaries of co-teaching. The study concludes on how the co-teachers were able to increase student participation in comparison to a traditional classroom. Teachers don’t need to use the CIC to tell if their class is not involved in a lesson plan. When you increase your solo act to a duo, students have more ways to interact, participation rises, and everybody wins.
“One of the most noticeable advantages of sharing a classroom is the sense of support it fosters.”
Consider a problem you face in teaching. Co-teaching as a partnership can be your solution. With a well-oiled partnership, student mastery no longer becomes a piece of teacher mythology. The most effective methods of teaching will be discovered this way, infinitely improved upon, and reach true individualization, all while working to help you learn how to love teaching again.