What do you do when your co-teacher is so completely different from you? Sometimes we relish the differences and sometimes the differences pose challenges.

A few years ago, I worked with a co-teaching pair who were absolutely opposite personality types. One was logical, lecture-based and needed full control of the classroom. The other was creative, flexible and motherly. They were in crisis mode. Both were dissatisfied, frustrated with each other, and bitter.

Does your co-teacher hate you?They assigned student seating in the classroom so that all the students with special needs were in the back and side rows. This way, the special education co-teacher could easily access the students who needed help using the “one teach, one assist” co-teaching model.

Unfortunately, though well-intentioned, it created an environment that completely segregated the students with an IEP from the students without one. It was like having two separate classrooms within one room. The tension between the teachers was intense. Their co-teaching relationship was conflictual, and the students weren’t gaining much benefit from having co-teachers.

During coaching, I offered them a suggestion that I hoped might work. We invited them to have the special education co-teacher begin every class with a warmup or a review activity that related to the current standards being taught. The activity would be directly related to the lesson. She would be the one responsible for designing, preparing and delivering that activity during the first five minutes of class.

Now, the logic behind this suggested co-teaching implementation of “one teach, one assist” was fourfold.

  • It supported parity: The students would see the special education teacher as more than a helper because she would be leading the students in an activity for the first five minutes of class.
  • Because the activity could be a review activity from the prior day’s lesson, it would accelerate the special education teacher’s understanding of the content being taught, especially if it was new to her.
  • The general education teacher had five minutes to observe the class and collect data  that would provide an opportunity for her to see the students differently than one typically sees when they are the one teaching.
  • Students would be exposed to a warm-up or a review of the previous day’s learning by using an instructional approach that was different from the verbal linguistic lecture.

Using this strategy, both teachers’ talents were honored using that strategy and both adults were utilized to benefit student learning and growth.

The co-teachers agreed to try this suggestion. Six weeks later, I was back in the classroom observing the team. The special education teacher told me that she had been planning and delivering the first five minutes of class for the past month. She was so happy because both teachers felt that the lesson was going well. She felt that, based on the previous day’s lesson, she could prepare a creative, fun, engaging activity to reinforce yesterday’s objective. It allowed her to channel her motherly, caretaker personality to benefit the students she was co-teaching.

The teachers went one step further. They integrated the students who had an IEP into a more inclusive seating plan, so they were no longer segregated on the side and back rows.

This mind-shift was really exciting to witness because both co-teachers had begun to see each other’s value, despite their teaching approaches being so different. Another important consequence of this was that their relationship improved.

It’s amazing how one little change – having the special education teacher deliver that first five minutes of class – led two teachers to create a totally different and positive dynamic in their classroom. And students now see both of them equally as teachers in the class.

So, think about the struggles you face as a co-teacher. Ask yourself, “Could my specialist (or could I) actually introduce the first five minutes of class? What other things can we do to maximize both our talents in a way that really supports not only our relationship as co-teachers but student learning in the classroom?”

Best Practices in Co-teaching & CollaborationExplore even more tips, tools, and resources for collaboration at TheHowofCo-teaching.com!

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