Last month I wrote a blog entitled the Middle School to High School Transition which talked a little about the quest Rogers High School has been on to help fix the ninth grade problem. One of the many things we experimented with was using two math certified teachers to co-teach Algebra to all the freshmen (approximately ¼ of our freshmen do take upper level math classes). For the 2014-15 school year I, along with another math teacher, took on a super-contract (taught all 6 periods of the day) and co-taught Algebra. For that year we were the only Algebra teachers (which helped with the consistency spoken about in my previous blog) and we saw some tremendous growth as a result of our work. The purpose of this blog however isn’t to focus on the results of that experiment, but instead to write about the experience of working with a co-teacher.
Co-teaching is becoming more prevalent in schools as a way to help balance class loads and provide support for students with IEPs or other special needs. Co-teaching isn’t just having another adult in the room, but is actually splitting the instruction, planning, grading, and other responsibilities that a “normal” classroom teacher has between two teachers. If you or your district are thinking about implementing co-teaching, then this blog may be a good place to start.
The first thing I would say is co-teaching can only be successful if the two teachers involved have 100% buy-in. Teachers are used to being in control of the classroom environment and the lessons that occur. With co-teaching neither teacher is in full-control so each teacher needs to understand that going into the relationship (I use this term strategically because it is very similar to being in a relationship, my wife often referred to my co-teacher as my work-husband).
Before co-teaching can begin, both teachers must agree on policies and procedures. If both teachers are not on the same page here very little else will work. Much like children will play one parent against the other to get their way, students will manipulate the classroom environment to get what they want if both teachers aren’t on the same page. My co-teacher and I spent approximately 40 hours before school preparing for this new assignment and I can honestly say that we spent the vast majority of time here (30+ hours). A few things that we talked about were: bathroom passes, student work turn-in and hand back procedures, cell phone policy, tardy policy, pencil sharpening policy, what to do with failing students, misbehaving students, etc.
Once all the policies and procedures were ironed out we began to focus on grading. We both were already utilizing Standards Based Grading which helped narrow down this conversation as we didn’t have to discuss philosophy too much, but there was still a lot of small things to decide. How much of their grade should be dictated by tests? Should homework factor into their grade at all? Once those questions are answered, then you need to insure that both teachers are on the same page in terms of assigning grades. Even with rubrics to match assignments/standards there is still room for interpretation. For my co-teacher and I we spent many evenings after school the first few months grading assessments together until we both felt comfortable with eachother’s grading practices.
Once all the behind the scenes stuff was decided upon we then had to discuss and come to agreement on instructional practices. This is slightly different than the actual delivery of the lessons or the planning of the lessons, here it’s the focus on the structure of the class activities. We put an emphasis on having an entry and exit task each day, so what does the middle of class (45 minutes) look like? Both my co-teacher and I were wanting to incorporate a lot of student movement and games, so that was a huge emphasis for us in this phase.
My belief is that the actual delivery of the daily lessons was one of the least important parts of our co-teaching relationship, yet that is the place where many teachers who are paired together spend so much of their emphasis. Perhaps this is only true in math, but I was always excited when my co-teacher showed a different way of doing things or different perspective to our students. Although co-teaching required A LOT more time preparing for the year (and for daily lessons), the rewards are more than worth it. Having another teacher to collaborate with on a daily basis, someone to witness all the “fun” things students do in class, and another set of hands and eyes to work with students are just some of the benefits of co-teaching. And while this was just a one-year partnership, both my co-teacher and I grew so much professionally from the experience and we saw some great academic growth from the students we served for that year.
Aside from teaching, I also coach baseball (JV for the high school and AA for American Legion) and enjoy spending time with my wife and son.
Latest posts by Aaron Brecek (see all)
- Rewarding Students… - December 3, 2016
- Chronic Absenteeism: the issues it creates & how to combat it - November 7, 2016
- Using Restorative Practices - October 10, 2016