What co-teaching is and is not

What is Co-Teaching?

Co-teaching typically means having two teachers (one could be a special education teacher) who teach the general curriculum to all students together.  Co-teaching, or having two teachers in the classroom has become a popular teaching strategy to improve the learning experience of students and to provide extra support to students who are in need of special attention or for gifted students.

It is important to take note that in a co-teaching team, both should be qualified teachers with preferably but not necessarily, one specializing in special education or gifted education.  There is a need to stress over this because there are some misconceptions about co-teaching or about co-teachers.  Here, in this article, I put forward these misconceptions so as to highlight what co-teaching is and is not.

What a co-teacher IS NOT.

  1.  A co-teacher IS NOT a teacher assistant who does errands for the main teacher like photocopying materials, fetching things from the staff room, setting up the projector or laptop, writing notes on the whiteboard, distributing materials to students, collecting books, arranging the tables and chairs in preparation for group work or activities or decorating the bulletin board or classroom.
  2. A co-teacher IS NOT the discipline police who goes round the class to spot and punish misbehaving students.
  3. A co-teacher IS NOT just an assignment grader or an assignment/a book checker without actually taking part in the teaching duties.
  4. A co-teacher IS NOT a trainee teacher or a junior teacher attached to a senior teacher whereby the trainee/junior teacher teaches while the main teacher or senior teacher remains passive in the classroom or vice versa.
  5. A co-teacher IS NOT a substitute teacher who fills in when the lead teacher is not around.
  6. A co-teacher IS NOT just a support teacher with no responsibility in planning the instruction.
  7. A co-teacher IS NOT a teacher who teaches one day while the other is passively observing and then the other teaches another day while the first teacher is passive in the classroom.
  8. A co-teacher IS NOT having one teacher planning the instruction in isolation while the other just wait to be instructed on what to teach and how it will be taught

What a co-teacher IS.

  1.  A co-teacher IS and may be the teacher who takes the lead role while the other rotates among students to provide support.  The drift teacher, as we call it, should be involved in the planning process so that he/she knows how to instruct and support the lead teacher. The role of each teacher should switch between each other.   This is called ‘Supportive Co-teaching’.
  2. A co-teacher IS and may be a support personnel who instructs different heterogeneous groups of students but again, has a say in the planning of the lesson instruction.  This is called ‘Parallel Co-teaching’.
  3. A co-teacher IS and may be a teacher who supplements or complements the other member for example modelling certain activity or paraphrasing the other teacher’s statements.  This is called ‘Complementary Co-teaching’.
  4. A co-teacher IS and may co-teach along side one another and share responsibility in the teaching of the same lesson.  For example one teacher takes the introduction and conclusion of the lesson while the other takes the development of the lesson.  This is called ‘Team Teaching’.

When deciding which approach to use in a given lesson, the objective is always to improve the outcomes of students.  Co-teachers may use different approaches in different lessons or even a combination of them in one lesson.


Things to take note when co-teaching

In ‘Supportive Co-Teaching’, teachers have to beware not to let one teacher take the lead role all or most of the time or students will view the teachers as being unequal or may stigmatize one teacher as the expert teacher while the other is not.  The role of each teacher should change in different lessons or in different parts of the lesson.  For example Teacher A may be the lead role in Activity A of the lesson while Teacher B provides support and then for Activity B, Teacher B may be the lead role while Teacher A provides support.  Co-teachers have to beware of the ‘Velcro effect’ where one teacher is always playing the role of a supportive teacher while the other always the lead teacher.  Or the supportive teacher hovers around one or selected students causing a stigma among the students.

In ‘Parallel Co-Teaching’, co-teachers work with different groups of students in the same room, depending on each teacher’s specialization. Both teachers may teach at the same time which means the classroom may be divided in half with each teacher taking one half (and the noise level may be slightly higher).  This approach is great for large classes because the students benefit from the smaller group teaching. However, teachers have to beware of creating a special class or group within the class and labeling one group as slow achievers and the other as high achievers. Parallel co-teaching is not just for slow achievers but also for fast learners. Co-teachers can pull out the high achievers and work on advanced lessons. To prevent stigmatization, it is best to include some normal students  so that students do not label each other as a high achiever or a low achiever.  Parallel co-teaching can also work as station teaching where co-teachers are stationed at different activity centers and take responsibility for teaching and explaining instructions for the assigned station or center.

In ‘Team Teaching’, teachers may act as a tag team where both teachers deliver the lesson together.  Either teacher can raise points or ‘interrupts strategically’ at any time, but should be done professionally and smartly so as not to be labelled by students or the other teacher as rude or trying to monopolize the lesson.  Both teachers can model discussing methods by bouncing ideas off each other or raise questions and giving answers to each other.  One caution is to ensure minimal teacher-talk or repetition and ignoring student participation totally.

If a school is about to embark in co-teaching, it is best to start off co-teachers with the ‘Supportive Co-teaching’ or ‘Parallel Co-teaching’ methods.  These 2 methods or approaches involve or require less coordination among the co-teachers.  ‘Complementary Co-teaching’ and ‘Team Teaching’ approaches demand greater commitment and skill in collaborative planning and role release among the co-teachers.  They also require more time, coordination, knowledge of and trust in one another’s skills which also means administration needs to provide common time for the co-teachers to meet up and plan.

To conclude this article, it is pertinent to remember these points about Co-Teaching:-

  1.  There are two or more co-teachers in the classroom.
  2. Co-teachers capitalize on each other’s strengths, proficiency, talent and expertise.
  3. Co-teaching provides greater teacher/student ratio (1:10 or 1:15 instead of 1:20 or 1:30) in the classroom.
  4. All co-teaching strategies or approaches have useful benefits but there are also cautions which co-teachers need to be aware of.
  5. Students should be heterogeneously grouped with mixed abilities and interests, not homogeneously grouped by abilities only.
  6. Co-teaching requires mutual trust, commitment, lots of communication, planning time and coordination of effort.
  7. Both co-teachers are responsible for classroom management, planning a differentiated instructional plan, delivery of the lesson and assessing the students.

Co-teaching is workable and beneficial because different teachers have different strengths and weaknesses and students can thus benefit from each teacher’s expertise and skills.



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