During my first year of teaching, I worked with a veteran teacher who knew the school and the students very well. She ran a tight classroom and was constantly figuring out interesting ways to engage students in learning. She was open to my suggestions (and I did make many), but, for the most part, she made my job much easier because she was always thinking about different kinds and levels of learners. I like to think we learned from each other but, more accurately, I benefitted a lot from seeing her classroom on a day-to-day basis.
In my second year, I worked with a brand-new, first-year teacher. We taught three periods together, so we had to find a rhythm that suited each of our styles. Unfortunately (or, as it turned out, fortunately) we had very different styles. He is loud and imposing and enjoys having whole group discussions and instruction. I am quieter and work better with students in small groups and one-on-one. We worked together to plan lessons that, at one time or another, used both of our strengths. It definitely started off bumpy, but here are some of the takeaways I have from working with different kinds of co-teachers:
1. Establish Classroom Expectations. We all have our pet-peeves, our non-negotiables, in the classroom. I don’t like it when people ask to go to the bathroom in the middle of a discussion; my co-teacher doesn’t like it when students get up out of their seats without permission. Ideally before the year begins (and at least within the first week), it is imperative to sit down with your co-teacher and create a system that you can both live with. You both must be on board and aware of the shared classroom procedures so that students understand the expectations and respect the authority of both teachers.
2. Establish Rights and Responsibilities. As teachers, we are constantly inundated with work: grading, planning, researching, teaching, writing IEPs. There is always more to be done. It’s immensely helpful to discuss what the role of each teacher will be in the classroom as soon as possible. As special education teachers, who often teach multiple subjects and/or levels, we need to be realistic about what we can accomplish while not overloading ourselves to the point we cannot function properly. Both teachers are responsible for the learning of all students in the classroom, and, therefore, responsibilities should be shared and communicated.
3. Discuss your prejudices. We all have them. General education teachers have prejudices against special education teachers (they’ll slow down the class, they’ll hurt pass rates); special education teachers have prejudices against general education teachers (they don’t understand the needs of the students). We cannot let these prejudices divide us. Open and honest conversations around our feelings about sharing a classroom are essential to set the stage for success and equity.
4. Plan ahead. The best way to ensure success in the ICT classroom is to plan ahead. Find time to sit down and build support structures into the classroom based on student needs. Discuss how, on a day-to-day basis, you can support students academically and social/emotionally. Everyone needs to know what happens when you walk into a classroom. Most importantly, two heads are better than one. Both the general education and special education teacher have experiences, ideas, training, and expertise in the classroom and only by planning ahead can you bring all the skills together. Planning ahead also allows you to play towards your strengths. With my co-teacher, I often lead small group work while he lead whole class instruction because it was where our strengths were. If you’re lucky, then you and your co-teacher will complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Good luck! I’d love to hear about your challenges and successes.