Last year, I was presented with a very unique situation — an opportunity to work with one of my colleagues in a team teaching situation. For 40 minutes a day I work alongside this teacher in an inclusion setting for one of my literacy sections. To be honest, I don’t know if I would have been so receptive to co-teach, but the other teacher approached me so it seemed the time had come.
Co-teaching is not for the faint of heart. Before entering into such a partnership (or being assigned to one), there are certain non-negotiables that actually need to be negotiated. I find myself constantly reflecting on what makes this partnership work. This is what I know to be true: co-teaching is a relationship based on mutual respect, communication, the ability to be flexible, and a great sense of humor.
In the famous words of Miss Aretha Franklin, R-E-S-P-E-C-T, just a little bit, RESPECT! It is the cornerstone of any positive and productive relationship. Obviously, if you have chosen to work with another teacher, you already respect them and their teaching practices. If, however, your partnership was not by choice, you must make the best of the situation and remember it is all about teaching your students. It is critically important that your students always see respectful interaction between their co-teachers. Unless it is a life or death situation, don’t confront a co-teacher in front of your students. Whisper in their ear, slip them a note, or establish a nonverbal cue to communicate. Save the real conversation for when students are not present. Respect is earned, but it can and should be given to your co-teacher as much as possible for it to flourish.
Each teacher has a voice. Both need to listen to the other for any success to occur during the school year. It won’t be perfect in the beginning. There will be some bumps in the road. Be mindful of the old saying, “Work smarter, not harder.” If your partner can come up with a better way to accomplish a goal, incorporate it into your shared teaching styles. The more you communicate with your cooperating teacher about how you want the room to be, the smoother it will go for both of you. Also, remember to keep the workload fair. Have an honest conversation up front about who will do what and when, so that neither teacher feels taken advantage of or is shouldering the brunt of the work.
Pearls of Wisdom: Don’t let a problem fester and grow. Be sensitive to your partner's feelings and have a heartfelt conversation to iron out any little kinks before they turn into real issues.
Sometimes one teacher is relocated into another teacher’s room when a co-teaching partnership is created. Sometimes both teachers are moving into a new room together. Whatever the case may be, it is important that each teacher has some private, dedicated space that they can call their own. No one teacher owns the room during co-teaching time. Remember to share and negotiate — it all comes back to that nursery school lesson of “Play nice in the sandbox.”
In this partnership, you will come to rely on each other. Each of you should play to the other’s strengths. If one of you is like a bolt of lightning, running around the room and striking each student with moments of intervention and the other is more methodical and deliberate, use both approaches. Make sure that the students get the benefit of both of your strengths and leave your egos at the door. So what if one of you is a better classroom manager and one of you is better at working with the students one on one? Figure out what each of you is good at and let the students benefit from both of you.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Look at the bigger picture and realize how lucky you are to have a partner. This is a tough time to be working in education, as we are all experiencing. If you have someone who wants to work with you, consider yourself lucky. There’s so much to get done and so little time to do it, that to have someone share the workload is a blessing. My co-teacher and I work on making sure that we laugh and get some giggles in throughout the day. Happy teachers makes for happy students which makes learning that much more enjoyable. And isn’t that what we all strive for — students who are engaged in their learning?
So whether it is a much needed moment to share some work related frustration, or an opportunity to divide up an increasingly heavy workload, a true co-teaching partnership can work for you.
P.S. – I will keep you posted on how co-teaching works for me this year. Stay tuned for our journey!