we can’t help but feel a little offended any time someone (usually not an educator), says that it must be nice to have two teachers in the room because it saves us a lot of time. you know, because it’s two people sharing the workload of one teacher.
the truth is, in the years that we have co-taught, we for sure were able to get more into our day because there were two teachers in the room. but we weren’t sharing the work of one teacher; we were doing the work of two teachers, and it sometimes felt like we were doing more than that because we had high expectations for what we should be able to accomplish.
there are many reasons we love co-teaching. at the top of our list? there’s nothing quite like having another like-minded teacher to plan with, a teacher who knows the kids just as well as you do. we know, though, that there are challenges that come with co-teaching, and have some practical things that you can try to make co-teaching more successful in your classroom.
advocate for the importance of a shared prep. we know that schedules are often out of the hands of teachers, but we also know that most administrators will do what they can to make teachers happier and more effective. having a shared prep with your co-teacher means that you can co-plan what you’re going to co-teach, which may seem like it’s not essential at first thought, but it’s close to impossible to be on the same page without the time to plan together. we’ve seen co-teaching relationships without a shared prep devolve into not much more than having an aide in the classroom (an overqualified and underused aide!), which is bad for everyone – teachers and students. we’ve yet to hear of a school that feels like they have enough resources currently – enough money, enough time, enough teachers. having a shared prep will help to ensure that all of these resources are being used to their maximum potential. if you currently do not have time to plan with your co-teacher, explain the benefits of it to your administrator and maybe even offer some creative solutions to rework schedules so that you have some time. every day is ideal, of course, but even a few times a week will help you if you’re starting with none.
go digital with lessons plans & conference notes to make sharing and co-authoring more seamless. we switched everything over to google drive a few years ago, and while it did take some time to adjust and move things over, after a little bit of time we could see only benefits to our co-teaching. any edit to our lesson plans was live and visible to both of us immediately. the teacher not teaching a mini-lesson was able to jot ideas right in our lesson plan in the reflection section so that we could refer to it later as we adjusted our teaching and planned ahead for the rest of the week. not having to share conference binders cut out the step of shuffling papers based on who was going to confer with whom; since our conference notes were also on drive, we could both access and edit conference notes for every student (even at the same time when necessary, which sometimes happened as we were planning).
share the teaching. all of the teaching. as evenly as possible. one way we do this is to alternate teaching reading and writing (e.g. if tara teaches the writing mini-lesson on monday, kate will teach that day’s reading mini-lesson). during conferences and small groups, we’re both conferring, and we alternate days with who does more one-on-one conferring versus small groups. there are many different co-teaching methods, and using more of a variety will help to ensure that you’re sharing the teaching load.
make sure you’re both working with every student. sometimes, for many reasons, we’re sure, special education teachers can fall into working only with the special education or struggling students (and, to be clear, there are many special education students who are not struggling students), and the general education teacher works with the students in need of enrichment. the message this sends kids is not one of shared teaching, but that certain teachers are there for certain kids, when, really, two teachers are there so that the needs of all students are met, and so all students should work with both teachers. if you’re trying to change how this goes in your room, keeping notes of your conferences and small groups will help you start to notice patterns in your teaching, and then plan more intentionally who’s working with whom.
talk the talk. like always, we think the language you use matters. in particular, the language you use in front of your kids (and colleagues) is important if you’re going to have an effective co-teaching team. instead of saying things like “my room,” say “our room” (as in, both teachers and the kids’ room). when you’re talking to the kids about something you’ve noticed, instead of saying “i’ve noticed it,” say “we’ve noticed it.” make sure both of your names are on the classroom door and the class website. when you send letters or emails home, make sure it’s signed from both teachers.
make it clear to families that you’re both the teachers of their children. in your introduction letters at the beginning of the year and at open house – basically, as soon and as often as you’re able – tell families that you’re co-teaching and what that means. it’s likely that you have kids in your class who have had co-teachers before, and likely that those co-teachers did things a little bit differently than you’re hoping to. so, being crystal clear with your families will help reinforce the relationship you have with your co-teacher. we’ve found success in saying things like, “we’re both the teachers of all of your children, and share the responsibilities of our classroom. we appreciate your help in communicating this to your child, that there are two teachers in this classroom.” also make it clear that any emails that are sent to one teacher will be shared with the other, and welcome emails addressed to both teachers. when you write an email, copy the co-teacher on the email.
what are some things you’ve done to improve your co-teaching practice?