Co-teaching is an innovative way of educating students with disabilities, and dilemmas sometimes arise. This page is intended to highlight strategies that can help to address those challenges.
What About This Problem?
Question: I’m a special educator. The person with whom I co-teach is competent, efficient, and assertive. Although she says she would like me to have a role in the classroom, she only asks me to do small, unimportant tasks, not partner for instruction. She also says that she likes to plan on her own, whenever she can find a few minutes, and so she isn’t open to planning together. The students in the class who have disabilities are doing well and have mild needs. What should I do?
Answer: Variations of this problem are common. In some ways, it’s helpful that the general education teaching partner is a proficient teacher and that the students with disabilities are succeeding. However, this isn’t partnership. Here are a few suggestions to address the dilemma:
1. A first strategy concerns analyzing the perspective of your administrator on co-teaching in general and this situation. Has the principal observed in the classroom? One strategy would be to invite an observation and then ask (with both of you there) what suggestions s/he has for increasing the special educator’s involvement in the classroom.
2. Depending on how IEPs are written (both generally in the district and for these particular students), the special educator might decrease the amount of time spent in this classroom. IEPs could be modified to include some indirect service (or, if permitted, that services are a combination of direct and indirect), and some of the service could be consultation as needed instead of co-teaching. There might be another place/classroom in the school where the gained time could be well spent. If nothing else, perhaps there are some students in other grade levels who would benefit from a brief period of intensive remedial reading or some other type of intervention that the special educator could provide.
3. Yet another option is for the special educator to sit down for a heart-to-heart with the co-teaching partner to explain her concerns about what is occurring because of the legal obligation to be delivering services in the classroom—which, of course, involves a direct role in planning and delivering the instruction, along with necessary accommodations, for the students.
4. If there are several co-teaching arrangements in the school, perhaps the principal would arrange for cross-classroom visits to encourage various approaches. Another option is to ask for a meeting of all co-teaching partners to trade ideas and discuss ways to enhance a 2-teacher classroom.
Question: I co-teach in a high school. We have traditional class periods, each 55 minutes long. But because we don’t have enough staff to teach in all the classes that should be co-taught, I’m assigned to co-teach in two different classes during a single class period. I spend the first half in one English class and then run to another English class for the second half of the class period. Is this legal?
Answer: Although it may not be what professionals would consider best practice, in most states the co-teaching arrangement you described is legal (if not particularly effective). One exception is the CTT program in New York—in that service delivery model, co-teaching must occur for the entire class period. Here are a few thoughts about what some call a “split-period” co-teaching arrangement:
1. The first question that should be asked is whether this model is addressing the needs of the students with disabilities. That is, are the students’ IEP minutes of service being met? Is this instructional model working in terms of the delivery of students’ specially designed instruction?
2. Another question concerns implementation: That is, are you and the two other teachers involved touching base to decide the specific schedule? That is, I do not condone a rigid approach in which one general educator always is your partner for the first half of the class period while the other always in partnered with you for the second half. Instead, it should be a flexible arrangement based on the specifics of the lesson and perhaps the complexity/density of the topics being addressed in each class.
3. Another aspect of implementation also should be considered: Would it be more effective to divide the co-teaching time between the two English classes in whole-class segments? It might be permitted to co-teach in one class on Monday and Tuesday, the other on Wednesday and Thursday, and split the time on Friday. Of course, there are many other variations of this concept of whole-period but split-period co-teaching. The only option that usually is not effective is a standard pattern of every-other-day co-teaching. That usually results you never really knowing what is occurring in either class, possibly resulting in you taking on a mostly assistant role.
4. I’ll offer one additional thought on this co-teaching arrangement. When this is necessary (and I understand that this sometimes is the case), it is beneficial to examine whether it should be the pattern for all co-teaching. For example, it might be that co-teaching should be for full class periods every day in 9th grade English and Algebra I while other courses could be split-period. I’d also suggest that data be gathered on student achievement, behavior, and perceptions in courses taught with split-period co-teaching versus those co-taught for full periods. Those data should be used as the basis for making decisions about this type of co-teaching for subsequent years.