If you’ve read my previous article Co-Teaching: A Subject Teacher’s Perspective, you’ll know that I haven’t always been great at sharing the big chair.  Recalling how my mentor teachers had worked together during my teaching internship, and reflecting on my own practice since I started co-teaching with special educators, I’ve come up with five features of effective co-teaching:

1. Teacher Equality

In order for the students to see both teachers as equals, both teachers must have desks of equal prominence.  A special educator should not use a student’s desk, but should have his own professional space inside the classroom.  While this may make it a tight squeeze, and some administrators may refuse to pay for another adult-sized desk, this is crucial to visually establishing the special educator as a “real teacher” in the minds of the students.  Check out my 3 Steps to Establishing Co-Teacher Equality.

2. Structured Lessons

Lessons can be structured to enable the special educator opportunities to do remediation and/or learning extension with individual or small groups of students.  For example, the first ten minutes of every English lesson I teach is dedicated to sustained independent reading.  This gets students in “literature” mode, and encourages reading for pleasure.  The special educators I work with use this time to do reading remediation with a few students who need it.  They know that they will always have those ten minutes to work with those students, unless we have an assessment or special event.  The special educators are completely in charge of this activity, from planning to monitoring to documentation.

3. Divided Responsibilities

Certain jobs can be delegated among the teachers so that students know who to ask about various things, and who they can expect to do something in particular.  For example, in my English and social studies classes, the special educator is in charge of vocabulary.  Since she is the expert on disabilities that affect literacy, such as language disorders and dyslexia, it is only logical that students should always approach her with questions about vocabulary, and that she is in charge of developing learning materials for vocabulary.

4. Fair Grading

Grading should be divided among the two teachers fairly, while minimizing discrepancies.  The way I do this with my co-teachers is we grade two students’ work together, explaining our reasoning and perhaps even negotiating.  This establishes the shared understanding necessary before dividing the workload.  At this point, I take the assignments submitted by the students without special needs and my co-teacher takes the assignments submitted by the students with special needs, some of whom have been given modified tasks.  We both have access to the grading system and put in our feedback independently.

5. Coordination

I use Google Docs to plan out every lesson of a unit before that unit begins, and share the documents with my co-teachers, allowing them to make edits.  I type out which teacher will be responsible for what, and highlight the activities that we will need to co-plan.  I make this available before the unit begins so that my co-teachers can make changes or additions, and we don’t experience conflicts or confusion due to impromptu lessons.  This is especially helpful for special educators who co-teach a variety of different subjects.  It is equally important for special educators to read those lesson plans and familiarize themselves with the content.  When one teacher is in the dark about the lesson objectives, he may inadvertently jump ahead or steer the discussion off topic.  Read my 3 Tips for Coordinating Co-Teaching.

Are there any features of effective teaching I’ve left out?  Comment below!