Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Valuing Each Teacher in Co-Teaching

I'm incredibly fortunate to have been teamed up with the same teacher to co-teach with for, we think, six or seven years...we can't remember. We had spent years together in a freshman physical science class and the last two have been in physics. Let me just admit right here that it doesn't matter that I have sat through physics now twice, I'm in no position to start teaching the content. I get nervous in class when students start asking questions that require a knowledge base to answer that I don't have. I'm currently on cycle for evaluation this year and I'll admit that I get nervous thinking an unannounced observation may take place during physics in which my evaluator will expect to see me teaching in the front of the classroom.

I'd like to think that I'm a seasoned co-teacher having been in that role for the last 12 years and having taught freshman and sophomore English, Algebra 1, Geometry, Lab Science/Science in the 21st Century, Earth Science, Biology and now Physics. In that mix of classes I've worked with ten regular education teachers and I think I've learned something along the way about what makes a pair successful and benefit the students. There is one attribute of co-teaching pairs that I'm afraid far too many educators is the mark of a good pair and that's this:  you can't tell who is the regular education teacher from the special education teacher/specialist. This attitude actually really bothers me because I think it puts an unfair pressure on the specialist to become a content expert and minimizes the work of the regular education teacher. Regular education teachers went to school to become masters of their content. To think anyone can come in and do it as well and with the same level of passion is frankly insulting.

But, I've sat through countless professional development on co-teaching models where we are told that co-teaching looks something like one of these models and told that someone who walks into the room shouldn't be able to tell the difference between the regular education teacher and the special education teacher:

These are the models I learned about when I was in college almost 20 years ago and based on my own experiences there's a model that's missing or not being explicitly discussed. It's the model that Anne Beninghof writes about in her article, "To Clone or Not to Clone?" in the January 2016 issue of Educational Leadership:

Co-teaching is not one teacher leading while the other grades essays. It's not both teachers doing the same thing at all times, a specialist pulling "her" students to the back corner while the main teacher instructs the rest of the class, or one teacher acting as the expert while the other is always the helper. It's not teaching the same way you always have. 

Beninghof advocates for co-teaching pairs to celebrate the expertise of both teachers. This is why I think I've been so successful with my physics co-teacher. He has never expected me to go home at night and be ready to be an expert on all things physics. Rather, I consider labs, activities, classroom set-up, materials, content delivery...basically the how of everything is going to be presented to students and we work together to make it accessible. I suppose that we do demonstrate some of the models illustrated above but my contributions to the classroom go beyond content delivery, which I feel is what co-teaching professional development focus on. I feel valued for the strengths I bring to my co-teaching relationship and I do think all the students benefit. This is my second year with my current co-teacher in Algebra and I think we're heading in that same direction which is a great feeling. 

So, going back to teacher evaluations...it's very possible that my evaluator is going to walk in and see me working in the back of the room with a student with attendance issues who needs to have every assignment differentiated rather than in the front of the room guiding students through notes. Or, maybe they'll walk in and see me working with a small group of students who need a little guidance and modeling on how to work effectively in a group or a review on how to annotate an article. Whenever it happens, I hope I'm asked about the lesson so I can explain where my expertise touched the delivery of content or designing of materials because I'm pretty sure seeing me lead large group instruction is not what they are going to see.