September 25, 2010

What co-teaching has done for me!

This year I started out by being informed that one of my classes was going to be co-taught.  At first I really didn't know how to handle that notion.  I'm a pretty free thinker and I like to keep things loose with my classes.  That doesn't mean that I am one of those fly without a plan kind of people, but if something isn't working, or if something strikes me as interesting, I will divert.  But, can that be done with a co-teacher?  Do I need to ask their permission before I make every move?  I wasn't really sure, and I think that is what scared me.

(Picture is not of myself or my co-teacher) 

At this point, I can say, I was wrong.  My co-teacher is one of the best things that has happened to me as a teacher.  She is knowledgeable in an area that most teachers with my level of experience (this is year 4) know little about (special education), and she is incredibly flexible, helpful, and laughs at my jokes (mostly 80's movie references my students are too young to understand).  But, why the apprehension?

Everything I have ever read about co-teaching has said one thing: Co-teaching should be done by choice.  In some ways I agree with the sentiment.  Major changes to your teaching are not things you want to leave up to another person.  However, how many teachers out there, already set in their ways, would choose to have another teacher come into the room and share their responsibilities, their power, on an equal level?  If I had not been forced into co-teaching, I would never have learned its uses, its benefits.

First Benefit: 2 Adults in the room.  Feeling outnumbered by your students?  Well, divide the odds in half and it makes a big difference.  You could be able to give two individual students one on one attention - simultaneously.  It doesn't seem like much, but you have literally doubled your productivity.  Also, there are two teachers to do the most annoying things that we don't like dealing with.  For example: I don't have to hand select and approve every single person to go to the restroom anymore.  We both do it!

Second Benefit: Shared instruction.  Each of us has our own brain.  Obvious, right?  However, we both look at our lessons in different ways.  My co-teacher is able to explain things to students in ways that I had never thought of because she is not me.  In addition, we are teachers of two different subjects.  She is actually in the room because of the special education population.  Because of that she is an expert on how to differentiate to those students.  This makes them more likely to succeed.  Not only that, but she is able to translate their Individualized Education Plans to me.

Third Benefit (possibly the best): Shared responsibilities.  As an English teacher I get a lot of work to grade.  My co-teacher said the greatest 5 words to me that I have ever heard, "I can grade this class's papers."  Though I will be providing input and making sure that our grading is on the same page, this is going to be a HUGE weight lifted from me this year.  Day to day assignments will still be graded by me in the class since she has 3 others she is co-teaching, but the papers are always any teacher's albatross.  We have a lot of trouble allowing ourselves to be helped.  Try letting someone help you today, you'll love it!

Co-teaching has been a scary endeavor, but it has so far been quite rewarding.  It is NOT for everyone, but I am willing to suggest that everyone should at least try it, given the opportunity.  Like anything else in education you have to give it a shot, see if it can work for your curriculum, your teaching style, maybe even your ego.  If it doesn't, call it a failure and move on.  If it does, and I bet it will, you will love everything you have to gain.

There is one thing to note.  Just like in a marriage, it takes two to make it work.  Both teachers in the co-teaching setting need to share the responsibilities and treat one another as equals.  If either side cannot handle the symbiotic relationship that must be formed, then it will be doomed from the beginning.

Interested in learning more about co-teaching?

Try this link to a description of what co-teaching is, and almost more importantly, is not

Also, here is the link to Dr. Marilyn Friend, an expert in co-teaching.

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