Wednesday, June 13, 2018


It's a marriage, you know. Sure, it can end after a term, or after a year, but it's a marriage. Even if you only do it one period a day, if the chemistry isn't right, you may need a separation agreement. But even if you get one, there you are every single day, having to lead a class without killing one another. That can be harder than you might imagine.

A few years ago, a co-teaching couple I knew had irreconcilable  differences. The principal, after various interventions, decided there was no way they could work together. He determined to break up this couple and leave them each with half the class. The teachers each selected an advocate, and I was one of them.

We were tasked to sit together in the principal's conference room until we'd worked out a division. We sat and looked at the records of each student. We rated them in terms of their records. I don't remember exactly how we did that. We flipped a coin for who'd get first pick. We then went down the list, making little adjustments and deals as we went, and split the class in two. Neither of us were happy for the kids, who'd have to feel the palpable hatred embedded into that division.

More recently I've been called to other feuding couples that weren't working out. In some of these cases, one teacher was assigned to lead the class while the other was given a supporting role. There were various factors that went into these decisions, but I felt like there was a winner in each. I wasn't at all sure this was a victory for students.

There are a lot of co-teachers now for two reasons. One is that special education students need to be in least restrictive environments. These days, for a lot of these students, that means being assigned to a general education class with extra support in the form of a second teacher. The other is the new version of CR Part 154 that reduced a whole lot of my ESL colleagues to co-teachers.

I'm much more familiar with ESL situations. In small schools, this often entails giving an ESL teacher five co-teachers. That's because there's likely one ESL teacher who simply has to do everything. In these situations, there's really no possibility of co-planning. Often the ESL teachers go in with no idea what's going to happen in a given class, and no possibility of planning how to support the teacher.

A lot of subject area teachers are now taking the magical twelve credits and becoming certified to teach ESL. This is often because it's easier to get hired when you have this certification. A supervisor can pick you up and save the expense of a dedicated ESL teacher. It's practical. Of course it doesn't necessarily mean that teacher really wants to pursue anything other than a job opportunity. I'm not remotely confident that these teachers can take, for example, my place.

I'm in a very large school, and we handle this situation better than most. We pair ESL with English. I'm certified to teach English, and a good number of my colleagues either have the certification or are pursuing it. But we still have co-teaching for both ESL and special ed., and with a large number of pairs we have our share of problems.

In fairness, our school does continue partnerships that work. I'm thinking of one pair that's been together for years. Despite this, new pairings are often made via the tried and true "eenie, meenie, miney, mo" method. Alas, this does not always achieve the optimum success level. It's kind of like, well, you're free and she's free, so there you go. There's no particular training and no compatibility test.

One day, after refereeing a particularly mismatched couple, I told my AP that I never wanted to co-teach. This proved an irresistible temptation for her to prove me wrong. She paired me with a new teacher who I'd told her I found smart and quick-witted. She knows I like people like that. It turned out we got along very well. We didn't follow any particular program. We would discuss our plans and whoever was going to lead that day would get the fun task of writing the lesson. I was persuaded co-teaching could be a thing.

Alas, not everyone thinks or plans like my AP. And no matter how well you get along with anyone, no one can successfully navigate more than one or two co-teachers. It's probably not a good idea for the state to declare from now on, there will be co-teachers. There ought to be more regulation on the roles and responsibilities. While I was fortunate enough to fall into something thoughtful that actually worked, it's just as easy to step into quicksand.

I'm not saying it's necessarily good or bad. I'm saying there needs to be more direction. There ought to be mandatory training, even if the state has to (gasp!) pay for it and/ or give teachers time off to learn about it. The current status quo, saying, "You and you, go teach together." is short-sighted and untenable.

And that's being nice. I know a lot of co-teachers who'd use much stronger language. If you have any co-teaching stories, please feel free to share in the comments.
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