Collaboration and co-teaching have been in the forefront of education. With inclusion as a major goal, it is more and more important for general education and special education teachers to work together.
The role of a general education teacher is to teach the subject or grade level they are certified in and specialize in. On the other hand, the role of the special education teacher is to teach students who need more support than the general education teacher can offer, provide support to staff, and create plans that ensure success for students with disabilities.
Therefore, when inclusion calls for special education students to be in the general education classroom, it is imperative that the two types of staff work together. Once schedules have been set and special education teachers know which general education teachers they are going to be collaborating with, it is important to find time to meet and plan. As the two sides come together for the benefit of students, there are several methods that can help them work toward a collaborative co-teaching model.
The following are some of the most common:
- General education teacher teaches; special education teacher supports
- General education teacher teaches; both teachers plan the lesson together; special education teacher modifies and accommodates
- General education and special education teachers plan and teach together
Detailed descriptions of these three main models are as follows:
- The general education teacher plans her classes, sets the schedules, and teaches the lessons to students. Meanwhile, the special education teacher supports from the back of the classroom and first hears lessons at the same time as students. The special education teacher helps students by walking around and then provides pull-out instruction to special education students after the main lessons to provide more support, modifications, and accommodations.
- The two teachers plan lessons together, and the special education teacher plans in modifications and accommodations as they do so. Because the special education teacher has been a part of the planning process and has plans for supporting various learning needs, all students get instruction in class and are able to stay in class. The general education teacher, in turn, gets more support because the special education teacher can help all students during work time or response time.
- The two educators plan and teach together, planning for modifications and accommodations for all students in the classroom. They create differentiated lessons and divide students into groups, and both teachers teach in the classroom. Pull-out is not necessary because differentiation has been put into place during planning.
The goal of co-teaching is for both teachers to work together to better student learning; of the three main models, number three is the best for achieving this goal. However, reaching model three is a gradual process. Most successful co-teaching partners start at the first model, slowly work to the second, and finally make it to number three. Developing a co-teaching model that turns into the third model is going to take more than a year—typically, year one is model one, and then teachers move into model two during the second year and into model three after that. Therefore, it is very important that the two teachers have administrative and counseling support to ensure that they can remain a partnership for multiple years.
Co-teaching does not happen overnight. The collaborating teachers will need time to get to know each other on a professional and personal basis, as well as time to learn how each plans and prepares for class time with students. They are also going to need time to build shared trust as they deliver material to students. Overall, the co-teaching process is something that builds over time.
As a teacher who has lived and breathed all three models, I can tell you that model three is the most beneficial for students. If the teachers work together and promote collaborative teaching, they can get other teachers to buy in. When you have two teachers working together, it takes the strain off having to do everything on your own, and both teachers will have the support necessary to make it in the world of education.