I spent most of my teaching career as a special education coteacher. It’s one of those things that can either be fabulous or hellish. My fabulous years were ones in which I found true partnerships with the other teachers with whom I shared kids. Those kids were always at the center of our decision making and none of the team(s) forgot that for a moment. The hellish years were when I was treated as a teaching assistant – my sole purpose was to ‘circulate and assist’ (shoot me now if I ever have to do THAT again…). The fabulous years outnumbered the hellish ones by about two to one. Color me grateful for that…
There are a couple of partners I would teach with again in a heartbeat. It really is the most professional fun I’ve had – to work with a teacher who totally loves kids, loves teaching, and loves anyone else who feels the same way. And, even though it was really fun for us to teach together, the true beneficiaries were our students. They got to have two teachers to turn to with questions, concerns, or struggles. They got to have two different kinds of feedback for everything they did. They doubled their chances of getting the kind of teacher they needed to have. Lessons had double the amount of thought and preparation so the kids’ chances of remaining engaged were doubled as well. (Besides, it’s hard to zone out with 4 eyes watching instead of two!) When it really, really worked, I know we changed kids’ lives in a way that we could not have done nearly as well on our own.
So, knowing what it takes to make a great coteacher, it should follow that this year as I move to the general educator side of the equation, that I would be the best coteacher ever, right? Well…not so much. Although I did not hesitate to have my coteacher, Mike, make his home in our classroom, provide him with a desk of his own and space for his things, and put his name on the door alongside mine, we are not really utilizing the ‘power of 2’ that I believe so strongly in.
The power of two means that a classroom lucky enough to have two teachers in it should look considerably different than a classroom with only one. The possibilities for instruction are doubled, for goodness sake, so why not take advantage of this gift? Splitting the class in half so you are only teaching 12 kids instead of 24, using small group instruction with flexible grouping to bring kids along more quickly or to enrich kids ready to move on, conferencing with kids about their reading and writing while the other teacher monitors the rest of the class, setting up stations where each teacher gets to work with a small group, and so on and so on. I know these techniques. I’ve used them successfully in the past. And yet it’s almost semester break and we have only done one or two of these strategies!
I’ve allowed myself to fall victim to the same resistant forces that many of my coteachers did in the past. I worry about covering the standards for the quarter, and grades, and testing, and the ridiculous notion that I need to do it myself in order for it to be done correctly. Note to myself: YOU ARE WRONG!!!
Today Mike was absent and I had to handle our two blocks on my own. It was not pretty. My first block ended up with everyone at their seats working silently (a first for this school year in any block). I could not take the under-breath comments, the rolled eyes, the talking during work time another second. So everyone, guilty and innocent, had to leave the beanbag chairs, the adirondacks, and the pillows on the rug and return to their seats to work silently.
I was especially incensed because I had created an opening of which I was quite proud – they had to come in the room and sit at the team table that best described their winter break –
- Read a great book (c’mon – I’m an English teacher)
- Saw a great movie
- Got the BEST present ever
- Traveled out of town
- Family visited
- Went skiing, sledding, or skating
Then I gave them 5 minutes to talk to their tablemates. They got to nominate the most interesting story from their group to share with the whole class. Pretty clever, right? I knew they’d want to catch up on their first day back from break and this would give them a chance to talk – but with a purpose. Well, they talked all right – but even when they went back to their home teams, they kept right on talking. Mini lesson on similes and metaphors – talking. Reading Lit.Circle books – talking. Checking vocabulary – talking. You get the idea. I got ticked off.
None of this would ever have happened if Mike were there. First of all, the boys (our combined classes have 5 girls and 32 boys) LOVE and respect him and will rarely do anything that might disappoint him in any way. Secondly, he is a no nonsense kind of guy. One raised eyebrow from him and they straighten up. But equally important, I would not have reacted as I did because Mike would have said something about these rowdy rascals that would have made me laugh and see the humor in trying to teach a room full of kids who were not the least bit interested. Having another adult to bounce things off makes such a difference!
So, here’s my pledge. When Mike comes back to school, we are going to start again, we are going to do things the right way, we are going to fully utilize this gift of two teachers in our room.
We are going to make a difference.
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