By KATIE NAGROTSKY
At its best, co-teaching is wonderful for both teachers and students in what can otherwise be a somewhat lonely profession. Don’t get me wrong — I love kids and being with students. But a good co-teaching relationship can provide inspiration, support, and opportunities for education and reflection in ways that teaching alone cannot.
The benefits of a co-teaching relationship were especially important to me as a new teacher. I had so many questions every class period in my first few years teaching ELA. Luckily, I got to work with English as a New Language (ENL), Special Education, and teaching artist colleagues who all brought their own unique perspectives and styles to our shared middle school classroom. They helped me to see that there were many ways to approach teaching, and apprenticing with them as a new teacher taught me the most about how to improve.
My Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) special education colleague Tracy was gifted at figuring out the flow within each individual lesson and ensuring that students could access the curriculum in various ways. When I struggled with pacing, she knew how to rearrange and prioritize parts of our lessons to adjust on the fly. I was interested in using a variety of texts in class, and incorporated related videos and images whenever I could. My colleague Erin recorded many of our written texts in English and Spanish so that more students could listen and understand, and then be more actively involved in class. I wanted to learn more ways to help students write about performances, but Khalid, the teaching artist I taught with, was a professional tap dance artist and could demonstrate the shuffle in real time! He also knew how to organize decades of history into a unit that somehow felt cohesive and allowed enough time for kids to get up and move in forty two minute periods. After teaching with these talented teachers for many years, I really began to miss them when I had to teach alone!
There are, of course, some challenges that inevitably arise when you start co-teaching with someone for the first time. Here are some of the things I wish I knew in my first year that might help you forge and strengthen relationships with your co-teacher.
Share your teaching values and what you want for your classroom
Though time is always a concern in schools, it is important that you and your co-teacher find space to articulate what you each believe about teaching. You may be partnering with a more experienced teacher who has valuable knowledge to share, and a different perspective on the classroom and school culture. Everyone has different approaches and styles — don’t assume that your co-teacher is going to know what you value or what your classroom pet peeves are if you don’t share them. It’s not too late to have this conversation if you haven’t had a chance to yet. Being explicit about what you think learning looks like and how your teaching styles compare can save you from misunderstandings later on.
Set up a regular check-in
School gets so busy, and it can be really easy to skip a meeting or give up your set appointment with your co-teacher. Often a special educator might be supporting or pushing into multiple classes and co-teaching with multiple teachers. Content area teachers have to attend grade level meetings. And everyone has many other obligations during the school day. If you don’t have a shared prep time, look at your schedule and figure out a realistic way to meet regularly, even if it’s for a quick 20 minute check in on the phone or on Fridays before you leave school for the weekend. Protect that time as best you can! You can’t co-teach well without communicating with one another about your plans for lessons and talking through how you think students are doing.
Be explicit about your roles and responsibilities
If you assume that your co-teacher understands who is grading what or that you will lead one group during book clubs and they will lead another, you might end up frustrated. Figure out how you want to share the work and make an effort to have an honest discussion about who will accomplish what. Students can tell when the relationship isn’t equitable and they know when one teacher is pulling more weight than the other.
If you’re not finding the time you need to co-plan, think about planning one or two lessons out of every week that employ parallel teaching or stations, so that you aren’t overwhelmed by trying to figure out the logistics of how to co-teach every day in a new way.
These are by no means the only ways to think about building a co-teaching relationship, but I have found them helpful in my teaching, and I hope you will find them useful in yours. For more nuanced guidance and support with navigating co-teaching as a new teacher, please reach out to us at the New Teacher Network!