Imagine not having your own room at school. Imagine each hour of the day you bounce from classroom to classroom—from algebra to history to science to social studies. In each room, you assume a different role. Sometimes, you actually get to teach. Other times, you sit in the back, taking notes. In still other scenarios, you wander the aisles, helping students focus or complete assignments. Students are often confused about your role, not sure if you are a teacher, an aide, whether you have the same ‘authority’ and clout as the ‘real’ teacher.
As the special education half of the co-teaching model, this is often your life. However, with a little extra planning on your part, as well as that of the ‘real’ teacher, the partnership can be meaningful for both of you, as well as the students.
If you are the regular education teacher, there are several easy things you can do to create a true partnership with your co-teacher:
1. Make sure the special ed teacher is recognized by yourself and students as another ‘real’ teacher. Include that teacher’s name on parent letters, report cards, and other important documents.
2. Offer opportunities for the other teacher to be the lead in the classroom. Even if your subject matter is not his or her area of expertise, he or she will likely have interest in and knowledge of particular topics you will be covering during the year.
3. Tap the special ed teacher’s expertise on classroom management or organizational strategies. Ask for input on how to structure the lesson or classroom. Part of the special education training is in this area and can be a valuable way for you to improve your own interactions with all students.
4. Plan ahead. Don’t fly by the seat of your pants expecting the other person can keep up with what you are doing. Not only will planning ahead help your co-teacher prepare for students on their caseload, it will help you in the long run.
5. Ask for input. Maybe your co-teaching partner is a technology geek and can infuse your lessons with new project ideas. Maybe he or she is an expert on art history or music and can tap into students’ other intelligences with these.
If you are the special education teacher, there are several easy things you can do to create a true partnership with the regular education teacher:
1. Be proactive. Ask how you can help. Have concrete ways in mind for each different class you are in.
2. Teach outside your comfort zone on occasion. While you may not be an expert in every subject, you have vast knowledge you can draw upon to lead a lesson in most any topic. Be brave.
3. Be an active part of the teaching process. Jump in on the conversation/lecture with your own ideas and insights.
4. Learn all the students’ names. Don’t just work with ‘your’ students. Yes, it may be your job to help them in that class, but you will have better rapport with all students if you help anyone who needs help. With two teachers in the classroom, no student should be left needing help. Be an active ‘circulator’ in the room, praising and prompting. This keeps your students from feeling singled out, and puts you in an authority role in the classroom.
5. Be available to the regular teacher for planning. If you make yourself a part of the planning process, designing lessons/assessments to help your students be successful will become second nature to the regular teacher. Your unique training can benefit all students when incorporated into lesson design.
For both teachers, keep in mind this is a living, growing, changing partnership. What works with one regular classroom teacher and special education teacher may not work in another partnership. Success is about finding a balance you are both confident and comfortable with day to day. In the end, all students will benefit when you find the perfect scenario.