Getting ‘Set Up’ with a Co-Teacher

Getting ‘Set Up’ with a Co-Teacher

Co-teaching can feel a bit like an arranged marriage at first.
Administrators (like parents) set you up. The partnership is purposeful in nature, namely to support students.  And…it has to work.

He burst into my door, right along with the kids, shortly before the first school bell of the new school year. “You and I are going to be working together this year,” he stated matter-of-factly, hand stretched out to shake. It wasn’t a choice.  Without warning.  Without a runway.  Without fanfare.

Just like that…we became an instructional couple. 

In an honest moment, I knew this was a good thing for my students. I needed the help desperately. Thirteen, of thirty students on my roster, had special needs and formal Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).  This ratio (43%) of students with special needs in a single class, is high by any standard (I’ve since learned that 33% is the upper threshold in our district). Students deserve quality support. To deliver for them, I had to get over some relational awkwardness, territorial tendencies, and inexperience, real fast.

As the lead teacher of record, I had a whole new set of questions to answer in the coming days.

How could this look in our classroom?  Multiple models exist for support of students with special needs in the general education classroom. The University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, highlights five models. Each has its own benefits and challenges associated with it.

  • Team Teaching is a model where teachers share the instructional role, playing off one another in real time.
  • In a One Teach/ One Support model, one of the teachers leads instruction, while the other teacher supports students who need additional help, gathers data, or assists in the management of the classroom.
  • Parallel Teaching happens when a classroom is split into two and both teachers are teaching the same lessons in different parts of the classroom.
  • Station Teaching features both teachers, working in small groups of children who rotate.
  • In an Alternative Teaching format, one teacher works with students in a small group while the other teacher leads whole class instruction. The small group of students in this case are engaged in either remediation or enrichment.

How/ when will we communicate best?
It seems obvious that having a shared prep period would be most advantageous, allowing co-teachers to plan, assess, and reflect together. In a short exchange, we realized that our prep periods do not line up. Big bummer.

How much co-planning will precede the co-teaching?
Since we do not share a prep period, we will need to collaborate before or after school. While effective teachers assume that work exists outside contract hours, some teachers resist collaboration outside traditional school hours. Administrators cannot, by contract, demand it. Uh-oh.

How are other teachers collaborating in a way that maximizes student benefit?
I made a beeline to the most experienced and effective teacher on campus, during my lunch. “You’ve worked with this teacher before. What approach do you guys take in your Math class? What is working for you?” This conversation was helpful, for sure.

But I still had other questions, like:

  • How will I get to know this teacher?
  • Is the co-teacher highly qualified in my content area?
  • What strengths does this teacher come to our classroom with?
  • What will I need to just “get over?”

As an aspiring school leader, I have an additional question that should be answered well.
How can administrators facilitate the cooperation of co-teachers on their campuses?

I intend to take my best shot at this in my next post.

What are your experiences setting up and supporting co-teachers?


Image by Scott Webb via Unsplash.

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