Imagine stepping into a classroom to meet your child’s teacher and instead finding a team of two. It’s often called team teaching: one special education teacher and one core content teacher teach one class together. Because both adults are presenting material, leading discussions, answering questions, and helping students individually, the average observer can’t identify who is the special educator and who is the core content teacher. Better yet, the class can’t tell which students have disabilities because everyone receives help from both teachers. It is a powerful model that can transform classrooms from good to great. A Tipton County English teacher and Tennessee Teacher of the Year finalist explains how co-teaching with a special education teacher has transformed learning for her students. She lays out five ways you can do it too.
By Becky McBride
When talking with other educators about their teaching positions, classrooms, and school roles, they are often intrigued when I mention that I spend all of my time co-teaching with a special education teacher. It’s typically followed with, “Do you share your room?” The answer is yes, we do share a room, but we share much more than that. We share students and responsibilities. We spend all day everyday together teaching the same subject and the same students, some who struggle with disabilities and some who don’t. The distinction between our roles is almost invisible, and the best part is our students never know the difference. Most never realize that some students in our class need additional supports. It is an energizing and effective experience for both us and our students. We have integrated five principles into our classroom to help everyone be successful.
Together, as a team, set high expectations for all learners.
My co-teacher and I are very clear at the beginning of the school year that students need to leave their excuses at the door. Because the level of expectations vary from teacher to teacher and subject to subject, it is of the utmost importance that our students understand that we believe in their success as a team, and we will work continuously to see them succeed. It is imperative to set high expectations for all the learners in a positive manner because all learners should have the same opportunities for change and for success.
It is no longer MY classroom; it is OUR classroom.
In our classroom, we share space, we share supplies, and above all, we share responsibilities. With a mutual respect for each other professionally, my co-teacher and I both bring valuable assets to our classroom, and it is so important to establish the relationship that we are in this thing together and that includes the physical setting of our classroom.
Keep the students at the focus of learning.
With both the regular and special education teachers bringing different skill sets to the inclusion classroom (this means students with disabilities learn alongside their peers in a general education classroom), it is an effective and necessary practice to keep the students, yes, all of them, at the focus of the learning. In our classroom, my co-teacher and I plan lessons together, teach content together, and assess students together. In the end, if we approach learning with all of our students’ best interests at heart, we will create a positive learning environment and an effective learning experience for all students.
All learners are a shared responsibility between co-teachers.
In a classroom that includes students with and without special needs, the co-teachers must have the understanding that both teachers will help each learner despite the classification of regular or special education. Both teachers in the classroom must be willing to step out of the box and intervene, instruct, and initiate help whenever a student needs it. As a team, we have a vested interest in our learners. We both want them to exceed expectations, to gain confidence, and to embrace learning.
Develop a plan for the school year and abide by it.
Since the beginning of our adventure together, my co-teacher and I have always developed a plan for the school year. Having a plan is critical to the development of an organized, functional classroom. Planning as teachers means that we follow the Tennessee state standards and we implement different strategies that will reach all learners. When our classroom rosters arrive, we develop a plan for instruction, for intervention, and ultimately, for student success.
My co-teacher and I learn something new each school year to become better teaching partners, and ultimately our students reap the benefits. All teachers, regardless of their specialty, must be treated as part of the real team and not just part of the sideline crowd. The acceptance of non-negotiable, high classroom expectations, the undeniable sense of shared responsibility, and the continuous professional development as life-long learners are a few ways that we, as a team, continue to improve. We both teach each and every learner that enters our little world, and we love every minute of it!