Whether you just found out you are team teaching next year, or you have been an inclusion teacher with a special education co-teacher for years, one difficulty all “couples” face is how to have good communication. When two or more people get together, there is the possibility of conflict. People are misunderstood, have their feelings hurt, or hurt others. Avoid the pitfalls of working with another teacher and build a solid foundation for a great co-teaching team. You can do it!
Benefits of Co-Teaching
Children benefit from a co-teaching, or team teaching models. They learn that teachers are people too, and that we all have different personalities. Just like children are different, teachers are different as well. The students learn that even though the rules are the same, the classroom atmosphere can be a little different, and it is still okay. Maybe one teacher likes a quiet classroom, but the second teacher does not mind a little noise. As teachers, we need to recognize our different personalities and agree on some basic rules that are the same in both classes, or with both teachers. To do this, there must be an atmosphere of trust and respect, and there needs to be good communication.
Another benefit of co-teaching is using the strengths of both teachers. General education teachers are the content experts and are good at teaching to the whole group. Special education teachers are trained to identify weaknesses and plan instruction to correct those specific, targeted skills. When you can work in a cooperative environment and share the students, they benefit from the skills of both teachers.
All teachers are good communicators. We talk to students, parents, and other teachers all the time. But it is different when we are communicating with another teacher about “our class” because there are feelings and egos involved. We like to be in charge and it is hard sharing responsibilities in a classroom. On a team, who is the “main” teacher? What does the co-teacher do? What if our teaching styles are different? What if our tolerance of certain student behavior is different? These are all questions that must be talked about before we can have a successful co-teaching or teaming relationship. We can have successful, thriving co-teaching arrangements if we remember some basic rules:
Lead with the Positive
Just like when we are talking to parents, if we have a concern, it helps to start with something that is going well before we bring up what we don’t like.
Stick with the Facts
Tell your co-teacher that it disturbs other students, and you, when kids just get up in the middle of class to sharpen their pencil. That is something that can be resolved with a procedure, like a pencil cup, or “sharpen three pencils every morning” rule. But if you come in and say, “You allow kids to get up and sharpen their pencils whenever they want,” now you are accusing her
Don’t Avoid the Issues
If something is not working, don’t just “grin and bear it.” This will cause resentment which will come out in other ways. If it bothers you that students get up all the time in class, talk about it. The only way to solve an issue is to bring it up
Don’t Take Things Personally
This is one of the hardest things you will ever have to do, but if you want to have a successful co-teaching relationship, you cannot get offended by everything your co-teacher tells you. It is not a criticism of you if she doesn’t like how things are working in the classroom. People are different. Talk about the issues, and if you are hurt, it is okay to say so and clear the air. Don’t hold grudges, or try to “keep score.” Remember true collaboration is hard, but it is worth it.
Always Suggest a Solution
Come to the table with suggestions for solving a problem, don’t just complain about it. Have lots of solution ideas, and listen to the ideas from your partner. If students getting up bothers one teacher, talk about minimizing the time spent wandering around the classroom. Brainstorm and try solutions. If something is not working, you don’t have to wait until next semester to change it, try something else now.
As you can see, there is a lot of work involved in teaming up with a partner teacher. You have to discuss issues, put aside your egos, and do what is best for the students. But the benefits can be tremendous both for you and your students.
Do you work in a co-teaching or teaming situation? Please tell us what has worked for you.