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Co-Teaching: moving beyond the six models

I struggle with some of the co-planning models, or maybe with the overall/underlying assumption inherent in co-planning models, that seems to say that the goal is for both teachers to be equal in all aspects of the teaching.  I think the teachers should be equally valued, equally heard, equally able to give input, equally engaged with students, etc.  But I disagree with the idea that ANY two PEOPLE will be “equal,” will be clones of each other.

When I was planning with my 7th grade counterpart, the other General Education math teacher, we worked really hard at learning how to work together.  No, we were never in a classroom together–we taught on the same schedule and split the 7th grade students between us; we were not co-teaching.  But we planned the way good co-teachers should and we taught the same material with the same assessments given on the same day, although we did not hold each to teaching exactly the same material on exactly the same day. Instead, we acknowledged that there was variability in our style and our approach which led to different organization of topics and material, but we gave an identical final assessment with identical supports for General Education students.

Part of what made the teaching and planning partnership work, in my opinion, was when we finally began to work from our strengths.  By the time I left the district after working together for six years, we were not only finishing each other sentences, but we were creating shared documents for each other without even discussing them in advance.  We got into a rhythm of splitting up tasks on strength lines–I might sketch out the big picture, often way in advance, and Irene would come in and do some detail work, and I’d go in and read it over for clarity and she’d put it all together and do a final details check….and so on.

When I was blessed with collaborative teaching opportunities, one class with a co-teacher and one class with a paraprofessional, I took a similar approach to the working relationship, building on the strengths rather than requiring each person to do exactly half of the work. My strength lies in my content knowledge and strong familiarity with the curriculum, with at-my-fingertips capacity to explain the material and to explain it more than one way. While my co-teaching partners often expressed trepidation about working in a math classroom, I found that, if I gave them clear instructions and work with all problems done out, my co-teachers did the lion’s share of the practice opportunities that so many students need, the guided practice.  ALL students worked with me; ALL students worked with my co-teachers; ALL students benefitted. To my mind, that is the true promise of co-teaching.

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