Sunday, February 9, 2014

Dear CoTeacher

One of the things I love about the school district where I work is that we have fully embraced the co-teaching model. With co-teaching, all special education students are taught in fully inclusive rooms, and taught by two teachers: the general education teacher and the special education teacher. No more pull-out, no more resource. Just classroom teaching, co-planned, co-instructed, co-assessed by two teachers working side-by-side.

Co-Teacher with some former students

I think co-teachers can hit a highly productive form of practice when a few things happen:
  1. If the kids just think that they are lucky and just have two teachers, you've done your job well. Sometimes the kids know one teacher is the general education teacher and one is the special education teacher. Or, sometimes it will be that kids will always go to one teacher over the other. If these things  don't're doing it right!
  2. Each teacher has a space in the classroom to work and they are of equal size. Think about it....if one teacher has less space (or no space) what message does that send?
  3. Co-teachers make an effort to know about the preferences of one another. The comparison we get at training on co-teaching is that it's like a marriage in a lot of ways. We are encouraged to find out little things that one another like and dislike. It may seem silly, but perhaps one co-teacher really prefers a certain kind of pen and always keeps them in the same space. That would be important to know! Maybe one co-teacher likes to come into work and get things done before school, but the other likes to work after school. Maybe one co-teacher always wants to leave on Tuesdays right after work to make a class at the gym. It's important to know these things about one another to better understand one another!
  4. Co-Teachers celebrate together. Not just academics and the progress of their students, but also one another. They plan birthday celebrations and attend all the milestone parts of life, like weddings and baby showers. They make it a point to spend time outside of the classroom so that their relationship is stronger inside the classroom. And...they have fun doing it!

When I came to Chicago in 2009, I was matched with a perfect co-teacher (and whole team, really!) Over the four years we worked together, I never really sat and thought about how lucky I was to have this great person working with me every day, but since I've moved on to become a Literacy Coach, I'm constantly remembering how much I loved the work we did together.

As a side note - this co-teacher situation really was like the three of us - Michelle (left) as the primary gen ed teacher for math, Julia (middle) the primarily special education teacher, and me, the primary gen ed teacher for literacy. At different times over the course of four years, Julia resided in my room, and Michelle's room but the three of us were just always in and out of one another's spaces - hard to think of Julia without also thinking of Michelle :-)

Anyways, just a short note to my co-teacher(s). I look back on our four years together with such pride and happiness at all we accomplished!

Dear Co-Teacher(s),

Thanks for trusting me and just "going with things" even if they may have been different than what you did in the past. Teaching is such a highly personal practice, and it can be hard to give in when you have had success doing things a certain way. I feel lucky to have worked with such open-minded colleagues! I am also on the receiving end of learning, as you taught me how to interact better with students of varying needs, how to modify work, how to think about kids in different ways, and how to make appropriate expectations for each child.

Thank you for truly being my co-teacher. You planned with me, you graded with me, we prepared our presentations, and eChalk pages by each doing part after we planned it all out. You were there to teach with me every day, and on the off-chance you couldn't be, that was always communicated. We worked well together!

It wasn't until recently that I realized that you were always doing half of our whole work, plus you had all your IEPs and Special Education meetings and paperwork to prepare. Had I realized this, I would have definitely offered to pick up more of the slack during your busy times. But - you never got angry or mad. You just did what had to be done. Thank you.

You always had my back when, kids being kids, tried to get their way whatever way possible:

Student: Teacher, can I ___?
Teacher: No.

Student: Co-teacher, can I ___?
Co-Teacher: What did the first teacher tell you?
Student: Oh.

You were there to share in laughs as our kids were funny or awkward or said weird things. It became so easy, that just a look from across the room was enough. How I miss that!

You took initiative to get things done that you know needed to be. It was never as if I felt I had to ask for something - you were aware, knew how to keep business running as usual, and just did things. I'm not so sure that this happens in all situations, so for that, thank you.

Eventually, we became one of those co-teaching partnerships that could complete each other's thoughts. Like that time we were talking about doing an intervention with....wait, what's the word? And you filled it in: fidelity. And it was right. <Onlookers shake their heads in wonderment...>

Anyways, I've been blessed to work with tons of super great teachers...the two of you at the top of my list!

Much Love,
Co-teacher :-)

Another side note: One of the principals in our district has a blog all about co-teaching! Definitely check it out and follow her as well!

Happy Sunday!


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