Two Teachers in One Classroom: Double the Trouble or Double the Success?

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For a variety of reasons, you could be placed with another teacher in your classroom, be it your school model or having students with special needs or children who are English language learners in your classroom.  

My first year of teaching I was an ESL (English as a Second Language) instructor, and on the first day of school, a teaching assistant showed up in my room, at the same time as my students.  At first I was flustered.  I had my routine all planned out, and nowhere in it had I accounted for another adult in the room.  How would we survive without stepping on each other’s teaching toes?  How would I make her feel valued as an instructor in our room?  How would we ensure that the students viewed both of us as guides in the classroom?  Fortunately, I lucked out with my teaching partner.  Shandi was a college student, studying education, and her love for the children was evident.  Although it was the first teaching experience for both of us, we were able to establish a friendship and healthy teaching relationship that allowed us to maximize our teaching results with our students, which only grew through our time working together.

One trap to avoid when there are two adults in the room is not using both instructors.  Too often, when I observe teachers, I see one teacher teaching, and the other standing to the side not doing anything.  Another common pitfall of co-teaching is lack of communication, and the teachers vying to speak at the same time over one another; this is confusing to students.  To avoid these dangers, here are some ways that I developed my team-teaching rhythm in the classroom with co-teachers:

Set the Stage for Success

When you are first working with a co-teacher is is important to carve out ample time at the beginning to get to know one another.  First, do something fun (grab lunch, go for a hike, etc) and learn about your partner.  Once you’ve done an activity to break the ice, establish common goals and state your preferences for how to collaborate together.  Be honest about your preferred communication style and what your priorities are for yourself, your classroom, and your students.  Share your vision, but be careful to listen to their ideas too, noting where there is overlap and where their might be areas that you need to compromise and discuss to get to agreement.  Set norms for how you want to communicate and work together.  Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses so that you can create a system where you support one another to your greatest extent possible.  

Create Time and Space for Ongoing Honest Communication

Having that initial conversation to set the stage is wonderful, but it is imperative to keep that conversation flowing daily.  Respect the norms that you’ve set up, and revisit them to see if they need to be shifted once you’ve started working together.  If something is bothering you, do not dismiss it, but bring it up in a way that promotes honest dialogue.  Bring up hard issues, and persevere through times of challenge.  Ask for your partner’s support to problem-solve.  Be open to constructive criticism, and be willing to compromise.  Be sure to keep the focus on growth, teamwork, and student-support.  

Mix Up Your Co-Teaching Models

You have two adults in the room with varied levels teaching experience and background- now what?  Nothing is worse than not utilizing both teachers or not having a plan for which teacher is doing what.  Below are some different models of co-teaching.  Play around with each of them, and utilize them all in your classroom.  Different models work well at different times during instruction.  Look at your lesson plan and discuss with your co-teacher what you both think would be the best use of your teaching skills.  

Also note, it is important to make sure that both instructors get to fulfill all roles throughout the year in order to establish credibility with the students.

Model One: Teach and Assist

In this pattern, one instructor is leading the activity, while the other instructor circulates and assists individual students.  

Model Two: Parallel Teaching

With this model, students are divided into two groups, based on ability or student needs. Each instructor takes half of the group and delivers the same lesson.  This model is a good option for smaller group discussions, labs, and situations where students need a smaller group in a classroom and more individualized attention.

Model Three: Teach and Observe

With ‘teach and observe,’ one instructor facilitates the lesson, while the other instructor observes and takes notes.  This model helps the team gain invaluable data that will strengthen their instruction.  Be sure to discuss with your partner in advance what you both think will be crucial to observe such as student behaviors or instructional patterns.  Be sure to find a time to discuss the observation soon after the lesson.

Model Four: Station Teaching

Each teacher sets up a station with different content.  For half of the lesson, students are with one teacher.  Halfway through, the students switch to the other teacher, and the each teacher repeats their lesson for the new group of students.  This is a good strategy that allows teachers to teach to an area of strength or interest.  It also allows students to get two mini-lessons, and breaks up the block.

Model Five: Differentiated Teaching

One teacher facilitates the main lesson, and a few students are pulled aside by the other instructor for differentiated instruction.  This is typically a good model to employ when you have students with IEPs or learning plans.  The smaller group instructor is still aiming for the same learning objective, but might change the process, product, or content to help students get there.

Model Six: Collaborative Tag-team Teaching

The two teachers on the team both facilitate the instruction to the full class.  This model requires the most instructional planning time together, and initially may even require you to develop a lesson pacing guide and script.  If not done correctly, this model may cause chaos as teachers talk over one another or seek to go in different directions.  Have a solid plan about who will be responsible for leading what, and how you will transition between instructors speaking and modeling.

Reflect Together

Once you find your rhythm, be sure to reflect together often.  Talk about the students’ successes and what you did as a team to enable them to achieve.  Talk about student struggles, and what you can do together to support those needs.  Having a thought partner will deepen your own reflection process and make you more accountable.  Your partner might also notice something that you missed.  Together, you can help each other be better.
With your powers of teaching combined, you can unleash the ultimate student-focused classroom!

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