I liked my classroom space, and I liked it even more when I was the only instructor in the room. At least, that was how I felt as a first-year teacher. I didn’t feel like there was a need for another instructor in my classroom because there weren’t many students who had Individual Education Programs (IEPs) or who required accommodations or modifications. And I knew working with another adult in my classroom would be a challenge.
The next year, things changed. After receiving my schedule, I saw something on my course roster that was new. I saw another name attached to two of my classes: a co-teacher.
I was no longer going to be the sole instructor in two of my classes. It turns out I was happy to have another adult and instructor in the room who would assist me in providing the best educational outcomes for students—especially those who needed individual education services. But there was that one qualm I knew I had to work through: working with another adult. I had questions like:
Will we get along?
What is my co-teacher’s teaching philosophy?
Do they have deficit mindsets with Black and Brown children?
Is my co-teacher Black, White, male, female or gender non-conforming?
Is my co-teacher race-conscious?
The answers to these questions were important to me and would impact the relationship we would build as partners.
I have to admit, I didn’t want to put in the extra work to build a relationship with another adult and adjust to compromise, but for my students’ sake, I paused, swallowed my pride and began the process with my new co-teacher.
Difficult Conversations Are a Part of the Process
In the beginning, we had some disagreements and made some compromises. However, there were some unspoken disagreements on content, pedagogy and regarding our philosophies on teaching Black and Brown children that weren’t properly addressed. This led to some significant issues in our co-teaching relationship over the years.
Our differences caused friction because neither of us were asking the right questions and we were both making compromises that didn’t feel right. We learned that the sometimes difficult conversations need to happen for trust to develop and, ultimately, for the students we serve to get the education they deserve.
If you find yourself in the same situation or if you are already in a co-teacher relationship and want to strengthen it, try implementing the following practices to foster and maintain a healthy co-teacher relationship.
Meet Before the Academic Year Begins
This meeting is essential and the foundation for a healthy professional relationship. Focus on getting the know each other—fun things you both like to do, common interests, books you like to read, movies you like, even dislikes. Talk about anything except work. Make this meeting one that is simply focused on getting to know each other on a personal level.
Choose Your Co-Teaching Model and Pedagogy
There are at least five co-teaching models to choose from. From parallel teaching to one teach and one support, or a mixture of all five. It’s essential that both instructors agree before the academic year begins how you both will deliver lessons. This needs to be explicit and written down to hold both teachers accountable. Some co-teaching models require more planning time together, while with others, the co-teacher solely supports. Determine which model(s) you both will use for classroom instruction.
Come to an Agreement on Content
My co-teacher and I agreed that what I was teaching was acceptable and she would assist to deliver and modify the content. This worked for us—sometimes. I recommend determining if any revisions are needed to meet students’ needs in advance. The co-teacher's role is to help students reach a certain level of rigor that you, as the “primary” instructor, have set. Both teachers should follow the agreed upon high expectations, modifications and accommodations, and refrain from changing the content when it gets challenging for students.
Divide Classroom Responsibilities Equally
Determine who assesses, who disciplines, who greets students at the door, etc. Ensure that each teacher has an equal share of all responsibilities, but compromise on what works best for you and your co-teacher. A co-teacher should never sit in the back of the room or only work with one set of students every day. If there are two instructors, utilize both adults in the classroom for all students to reach their highest academic potential.
Learn More About Co-Teaching
It’s a great idea for both teachers to read academic literature on co-teaching. I recommend Dr. Christopher Edmin’s book, “For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too.” He has a specific chapter called “Coteaching” and provides a nuanced view of how instructors can co-teach more effectively for higher student academic outcomes.
When You Know It's Not The Right Fit
If you’ve tried everything and there is still significant disagreement, this is a sign that the co-teacher and core teacher are not the right fit. Core teachers and co-teachers don’t have to like each other to get the work done; however, it does help in making the work more manageable and fun for both teachers and students.
Working and building a relationship with another adult can be challenging; however, the focus must always be kept on what’s best for kids. Two adults in a classroom should produce higher academic outcomes, but the work of relationship and compromise must be done to ensure a successful academic year with a co-teacher.
Devin Evans is a 10th grade English Language Arts teacher at Butler College Prep Charter High School on Chicago's far South Side. He serves as co-10th grade team lead and master teacher for Butler's humanities department. He graduated from Michigan State University with a BA in Social Science Education and History and is pursuing a Masters in English Language Arts from Relay Graduate school of ...