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How to Become Better at Co-Teaching

A co-teaching arrangement typically involves a general education teacher collaborating with a specialist teacher. This specialist teacher may have certification in teaching English Language Learners (ELLs), students with learning disabilities, or another demographic of students.

Because co-teachers work together, students with special needs are rarely pulled out to receive services at another location. Although this system is meant to promote a more positive learning environment, it can be challenging.

Here are a few tips to become better at co-teaching.

Tip #1: Practice mutual respect.

Having mutual respect is crucial to a co-teaching relationship.

Working closely together requires that you both openly share ideas and help students. Not everyone will share the same ideas; sometimes you will disagree with each other. However, respecting differing viewpoints is essential.

Most teachers in co-teaching relationships that don't work often feel disrespected. They feel like their thoughts and ideas aren't heard. It is important to remember that words and actions can reveal so much. Treat your co-teacher respectfully, and they'll do the same to you.

Tip #2: Have defined roles and responsibilities.

Co-teaching is easier when both partners agree on who does what and when.

Having clear roles and responsibilities will prevent either teacher from feeling that the other has crossed a line or avoided their responsibilities. Co-teachers should agree on how to handle classwork, homework policies, scheduling, and behavior. Then they will always be on the same page, and students will not be confused. 

This type of planning may take a lot of time.  Therefore, a time at the beginning of each term or before the school year begins should be scheduled to create this plan.

Tip #3: Learn to be flexible.

Change can be hard. To avoid the challenges and complexities of change, teachers may choose to rely on and refer to inefficient, irrelevant, outdated strategies and activities. However, in co-teaching, you can gain another teacher's perspective on how to improve instruction, how students are assessed, and what resources to use.

Of course, this might mean modifying your teaching style or abandoning your old methodologies. Although this is difficult to do, be open-minded and trust the process. You might be surprised at the outcome.

Tip #4: Teachers that plan together stay together.

Co-teaching can really be the best of both worlds.  General educators have a broad understanding of the curriculum standards and the desired outcomes for the greater group. They also tend to plan lessons for larger groups and know how to work with many students simultaneously. Special education teachers are skilled at customizing instruction and curricula to meet the needs of students.

Co-teachers should support one another by planning their time effectively together. Take a few minutes each day to discuss both plans. This way, each teacher's lessons can be prioritized, and no one is left out.

Refrain from being overly protective and territorial in the classroom. Different perspectives are important, and co-teachers should definitely utilize each other's strengths. In a co-teaching environment, this is detrimental. Failing to work together will get co-teachers nowhere.

Tip #5: Don't take yourself too seriously.

We are our worst critics. 

Usually when teachers feel like their entire lesson was terrible and a complete failure, students don't notice those mistakes and mishaps. Plus, failure is inevitable and sometimes necessary; it’s a learning tool. 

Humor is a great way to release tension. Laugh at yourself; laugh with your co-teacher. Allow yourself to make and learn from our mistakes; there is no need to be too critical about yourself or take yourself too seriously. 

Tip #6: Communication is key.

Having constant open communication is essential in co-teaching relationships. Many co-teachers use methods like email and text messaging to ensure that the day is running smoothly, and they're both on the same page.

In tandem with open communication, co-teachers should check in with each other regularly. Support each other by asking questions like: 

  • Is time being shared equally? 
  • Are we dividing the workload evenly? 
  • Can I help you with anything?

Tip #7: Administrative support is available. 

Regardless of whatever happens in a co-teaching relationship, it's important to remember that both teachers can go to administration for support.

If co-teachers have problems, don't discuss them with other teachers or with students’ parents. It is unprofessional, disrespectful, and the impetus for gossip and rumors. 

If co-teachers disagree or have a dispute, definitely do not involve students. Instead, go to a trusted administrator for guidance. You can tell the administrator what you would like feedback on and what isn't working.

Final Thoughts

Co-teaching relationships may be far from perfect. There may be obstacles and situations that test both teachers. However, if you take the time to cultivate the relationship, you can foster a meaningful, professional relationship with each other, which is beneficial not only for the teachers, but for the students you teach.

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