Co-teaching can be stress-inducing or stress relieving. How YOU choose to approach it will make all the difference. Many teachers treat their classrooms in the same way a dog would treat his backyard. We set it up just the way we like it, keeping all the important pieces in an organized system that is often only understood by the creator. So when someone steps onto our turf we can be a little possessive. When it comes to co-teaching this mindset will not be productive.
In my second year of teaching, they scheduled me with a co-teacher. I was already feeling very green as an educator, and to have another teacher in my classroom every day who would judge my teaching only made those insecurities flare. However, this was not the actual experience. My co-teacher never treated me in a way that made me feel like I didn’t know what I was doing. The truth was I didn’t always know what I was doing. She was good at helping me find ways to help all the students in our class. She became a teacher to me, as well, that year. Thankfully that first experience helped me to keep an open mind about the co-teaching model.
Ways to make co-teaching run smoothly
It was a decade before I would see another co-teaching experience in my classroom. Not that this was my choice, it just didn’t work out for me to be scheduled with one. Co-teaching is now a regularly scheduled course for me. When this change was made I wasn’t aware of who my co-teacher would be until those first work days before students arrived. This is not an ideal situation. If it’s possible to have more than a few days to coordinate I suggest taking the time to do so. This can really save a lot of time later.
When meeting your new partner it’s best, to be honest about your feelings or past experiences with this model of teaching. If you’ve had a negative experience previously be upfront about it. However, keep in mind this is not the same person you once worked with so don’t punish them for someone else’s crimes. Start the conversation by sharing your philosophy and systems used in the classroom. Then give them an opportunity to critique those ideas with a special educator’s lens. The systems I’ve put in place work for me, they were created by me and I get them, this is not always the case for students. I need to be flexible in the way I organize. A student’s main deficiency might overlap with a way I’ve decided to organize. There can still be an organized system, it may just need some tweaks for the students we serve.
Ideas for co-teaching lessons
Next comes the actual teaching part. This school year I noticed my co-teacher watch me a lot. At first, I was self-conscience, but then I realized she was just getting to know my style. We frequently checked in with each other as the lessons played out or during small breaks while students worked independently. It soon became a rhythm we were both beating. Co-teaching can take a few years to really feel comfortable with someone, but that’s the nature of education. Teaching, in general, takes trial and error to see what really works well. My co-teacher and I are always finding ways to revamp our lessons, but the key to making it work is honesty.
Honesty is always going to be the best policy when working with someone in such close proximity. It’s best to be direct in a loving manner. My co-teacher and I are both direct kind of people and this saves us a lot of time and frustration. None of us have the superpower to read minds (in a middle school classroom the thought makes me shudder) so be aware of the expectations you may have placed on your partner without their knowledge. If something seems to be off, openly discuss it. Your productivity and relationship will thank you.
Throughout the next school year, I hope to share some of the strategies that work best for our team. One idea that we have decided to try out for the school year is Guided Reading. We are also testing the idea of eliminating the whole class novel. Our district brought in co-teaching guru Sonya Kunkel, who has been very helpful in giving us some very real advice, as well as, lesson ideas. Leave a comment and share how you are working well with your co-teacher.