Having two teachers in one classroom sounds like a dream come true – and it is in many ways. How can you make the most of an inclusive situation? Here are 10 co-teaching tips for you and your teaching partner – whether you’re the classroom teacher, or the intervention specialist.
1. ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING
It’s first and most important. Your mindset will determine your fate before you even set foot in your classroom. That’s true of teaching in general, but even more so when you have another adult in the room. Whether that person is a co-teacher, special ed teacher, or teacher’s aide, both teachers need to keep a positive, “can-do” attitude. There will be some wonderful opportunities for you to improve your teaching skills!
Keep in mind the saying, “Better together!” This is especially true of a co-teaching relationship. Focus on the positives, and anything that you perceive as negative can be worked on for improvement.
2. Fear: Will I be judged?
Let’s get one of the biggest concerns out there right away. A fear that many teachers don’t like to talk about is that the other teacher will be watching you. And I think we can all agree we’re worried about being judged. Well, there’s no question that your co-teacher will see you in some tricky-sticky situations as you deal with parents, discipline, tantrums, and all of the other not-so-fun aspects of teaching. So, yes, they’ll form some opinions about how you handle yourself in the classroom. I think the word “judge” has negative connotations, so I really hesitate to use that term.
As the two of you work together and become more comfortable, you’ll begin to feel more supported than judged.
As teachers, you’re both vulnerable and you’re both human. You WILL make mistakes – but so will your co-teacher. It’s inevitable. Some days our thoughts just don’t flow well, and sometimes we just can’t find the right words. We’ve all been there.
If you make a mistake, it’s okay – forgive yourself. Your co-teacher will! Use a flub as a way to forge even more communication between you and your co-teacher. It’s okay to laugh about words that came out wrong. Talk about the mess-ups and stay relaxed. Remember that you’re a team!
Use mistakes and experiences to better yourself. They’re great opportunities to receive feedback that you really, truly can use to become an even better teacher. We allow our students to make mistakes and learn from them . . . shouldn’t we allow the same from ourselves? Many teacher evaluation programs and mentor programs encourage teachers to visit one another’s classrooms to learn and grow. It’s valuable.
Meet together and talk. And talk. And talk. Make yourself available. Be honest. I’m probably stating the obvious but offer feedback and suggestions gently. “Freddy had a tough time today. What do you think about trying . . . . (and here you can offer a suggestion).”
We often hear co-teaching compared with marriage. They’re similar in many ways (I know, different in many ways also – you probably didn’t choose your co-teacher like you did your life partner!). Building the relationship will take a bit of time, but you can build a positive relationship and feelings of collaboration.
Keep in mind how you would prefer to hear suggestions being offered by your co-teacher. As you’re observing your co-teacher, he/she is observing you. Be kind and helpful with comments and suggestions and you’ll probably receive that back, paving the way for a wonderful relationship.
Know that there may be some days that you just don’t feel like you click, but typically the more you work together, the fewer those days are likely to be.
4. Be receptive to feedback and comments
As you’re planning lessons and offering ideas, your co-teacher will have ideas to offer as well. Be open to hearing ideas, strategies, and advice. Lessons and discipline can be handled effectively in many different ways. Sometimes you’ll be the one with the great idea, while other times your partner may have something better to offer.
Keep an open mind! If you need time to think about ideas and comments, just say so. If you need clarification, just ask. Teachers are natural-born helpers.
Sometimes it might hurt a bit to disagree about how the classroom is running, a lesson plan, or how a situation was handled (even if it’s given in a kind way). But don’t make and take disagreements personally. Keep discussions professional – what’s best for the students. Be willing to compromise and work on solutions that both of you feel comfortable with.
Use these opportunities to better yourself. You already know your strengths and, if you’re like me, are well aware of your weaknesses (I am painfully aware!) Your co-teacher WILL have suggestions and ideas for your teaching “toolbox” that you’ll benefit from – if you’re open to new ideas and suggestions.
If you’re co-teaching with someone who doesn’t offer ideas or suggestions, feel free to ask. That’s part of keeping the communication and dialogue open – COMMUNICATE! “What do you think we could use work on?” or “What areas do we need to focus on for improvement?” or simply, “How do you think things are going?”
Use the pronoun WE instead of me or you. Establish the idea that the two of you are a team, that together you can overcome obstacles, and that you’re stronger together.
How is this done?
5. Hammer out the details
Super important. I’m talking about the little things that will make or break your teaching together. You and your co-teacher both need to be comfortable with the classroom rules and you both must be consistent. Ideally, you’ll decide the rules together. What are the non-negotiable rules and which ones can be flexible?
Are you using behavior charts, clips, stickers, etc.?
Can Bobby sharpen his pencil during class? What if the lead breaks in the middle of the lesson? Can he sharpen it or should he have a second one handy? Will he be in trouble if he gets up to sharpen it?
Can Susie use the restroom after returning from recess? Yep – she should have gone at recess time, but we all know that sometimes doesn’t happen.
Oh, no! Teddy is getting ready to explode from frustration! What’s your plan? (In general – what is the discipline plan? You better agree on one from the start. Talk about it, discuss it. Don’t just say, “We’ll figure it out.” You need to know each other’s expectations ahead of time.)
Darn! Chris doesn’t have her homework done. Again! What’s the plan? What’s your role?
Can you get in your co-teaching partner’s desk to find White-Out? Is she comfortable with you sitting in her teacher’s chair or using her pens?
What about when you wake up sick? Will you text your co-teacher?
You know the old adage, the devil is in the details.
6. Be On the Same Page
This is especially true when it comes to dealing with parents, communication, and behavior issues. If you receive and respond to an email from Teddy’s mom, send a copy to your co-teacher, or print it out, or – at the very least – tell her about it. Keep each other updated.
You need to present a united front to students and parents. Again, remember that you and your co-teacher are a team. If possible, answer emails together, read each other’s parent-teacher communications, and try to arrange for phone calls to be conference calls so that both teachers can be involved. Keep each other informed!
7. Don’t make your co-teacher look bad in front of the students! Or anyone!
For heaven’s sake – JUST DON’T! Never, ever, ever! Again, this is like a marriage. Make your partner look good!
Don’t ever find yourself saying things like, “Well, you know Mrs. Jones is really strict. I wouldn’t do it that way.” Make only positive comments to parents and students about other teachers. Build each other up, don’t tear each other down!
8. Find comfort levels
Again, this takes COMMUNICATION.
Who will be teaching the meat of the lesson? What will the other teacher be doing? Communication about expectations is KEY here. You both have a vision about how the classroom will be run. TALK about it. Get those ideas and visions out there for discussion. Maybe you have the same vision, but your strategies or methods are totally different. It’s definitely best to get those expectations out in the open.
Be honest and talk about what parts of teaching you especially enjoy doing, and what you aren’t your favorites. For example, who will handle the opening lesson, bellwork/ bellringers/morning work/whatever you call your “start of class” work? Someone has to be the lead teacher during that time, while the other teacher handles the administrative end (who is absent? Why is Tanesha crying? Why did Susie arrive late?)
If you already know that a certain task is a weak area for you, maybe the other teacher can take the lead in that area. If your co-teacher isn’t feeling well, or had an argument with her daughter before school, offer to take a bigger role of the lesson that day. You know the saying, “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.” It definitely holds true with co-teaching.
9. An Extra Set of Eyes and Ears
In the sports world, coaches LOVE having an extra set of eyes and ears to observe. Again, this works to your benefit if you COMMUNICATE and talk about your observations. Did you notice that Duane seems to have a rash? Or that Mica keeps poking Dustin with his pencil whenever the teacher isn’t looking? Use these observations to help you both.
10. Keep your sense of humor
It’s so easy to get caught up in the stress and day-to-day gripes. Don’t spend your valuable time whining and complaining. Unless you have some solutions, leave the belly-aching out. It’s a downer, it doesn’t help, and it’s contagious. Don’t be that person. Be able to laugh at yourself and find the funny side of situations.
So you totally messed up the lesson. You dropped the test tube on the floor. Latoya catches you slipping a handful of M&Ms into your mouth. A student announces LOUDLY that your breath stinks – Um, yeah… these things happen. Laugh! Don’t take yourself so seriously! It happens to ALL of us!
Be the positive person who brings out the best in others – students and teachers!
*Personal note: I’ve been a co-teacher for many of my 20+ years of teaching. I’ve been truly blessed to have wonderful co-teachers. Everyone is different and brings their own unique blend to the classroom. These different blends have brought me tons of inspiration and ideas, but best of all – they’ve made me a much better teacher.
I’m sure there are dozens of other co-teaching tips – PLEASE SHARE THEM! What are your ideas and thoughts? I’d love for you to leave a comment below!