Co-teaching: how I make it work. Real-life advice to figuring out how to share your classroom!

My current co-teacher, Stephanie, and I

As a student teacher or a student who hasn’t made it quite to your practicum yet, you have your plans for your classroom... right? We all did. We dreamed about having OUR classroom, how we would teach, how we would decorate it, etc. etc. etc.

We planned for our lessons, how our daily schedules would line up, things we would do with our kids to start the morning off fresh and ready to roll.

I was totally that girl who was planned and ready; all over TPT buying up all the things I thought would make me thebest teacher. I was in complete control of my classroom… or at least for the first 2 years of my career I was.

When I taught in America, I was the primary classroom teacher. I had 23 kindergarten students who were my sole responsibility. I had an assistant, but that’s it. She helped out where she was asked, and did totally make my life easier in a lot of ways. It was a lot of work, but I loved it. I thought this was how it was supposed to be.

When I moved to Taiwan, I first taught about 4-5 classes a day ranging from pre-school to high school ages. I taught from a “textbook” (that was not my cup of tea) and I rarely had to plan anything more than that. It was fairly easy work, but as I mentioned in my last post, I was not happy.

Finally, I got my job at my current school and everything was looking up. The setup here is co-teaching classrooms that are taught bilingually. I went into this not really understanding what that meant from me, but it’s fine because I felt like I was doing what I wanted to do again… actually TEACH!

Co-teaching is defined as: two educators who are working together to plan, organize, instruct and make assessments for the same group of students or class. The teachers share the classroom, the planning and any other responsibilities.

I’m not sure about your teaching program, but when I was getting my education degree, co-teaching was not super talked about. They mentioned it a little, and kind of explained the model but I was never given a chance to really experience it. I only had this dictionary definition of what it looked like. You can watch videos and listen to people in co-teaching classrooms describe it, but really you can’t know until you get in it. There’s also a ton of different methods to co-teaching! Two teachers who are both speaking the same language, the method I am in which is two teachers who speak different languages working together, a general educator and a special educator, etc.

Co-teaching ended up being unlike anything I have ever experienced before. It’s a lot of communication with your co-teacher, and cooperation on planning and implementing everything from classroom management to curriculum content to hallway behaviors. My first year in this new environment was rocky. My co-teacher was a sweet, experienced Taiwanese teacher, who was about 20 years my senior. She felt very comfortable with her classroom approach, but welcomed some ideas or changes to enhance the classroom. She helped me get settled in the classroom in the beginning and let me take some reigns on the decorating and set up. We worked together to plan and implement a classroom management strategy that worked for both of us, and we felt confident the year would run very smoothly.

Well, it did not.

You see, this teacher and I failed miserably at communication with each other. She had thoughts or opinions that she was not saying and so did I. It wasn’t working for us or for our students. We began to lose control of some of the more “testy” students, who would push our buttons at the first sight of a slight irritation. We were beginning to show resentment and passive aggressive behaviors towards each other, as we both attempted to take control or get the reigns on our classroom. By the end of the year, I had asked to either be moved to another grade or given a new co-teacher. It just wasn’t working.

Eventually, our administration decided to move my co-teacher to grade 2 and give me a younger teacher, who had only one full years experience in grade 3. They felt as though I could help this young teacher grow in her teaching strategies within a new grade level. They also thought we would make a good team, as we are both young and excited to work.

Knowing my part in the failure of my last partnership, I was determined to make this one work and to do better where I could.

The next fall, my new co-teacher and I sat down and reviewed our expectations for the year, for each other, for the students, and finally we reviewed the curriculum. She expressed some anxiety about this year and being with such young students (we teach grade 1). I assured her it would be okay as long as we both remember to consistently communicate with one another. That was the most important part of this new partnership. I explained to her “I want to know when something bothers you, or when you have an opinion that is different than mine and I want to be able to tell you the same things.” We agreed to move forward with this in mind… we recognize that we are a team. If we fight against each other, we will fail both our students and ourselves. Ultimately, those kids are the reason we are here!

There have been some bumps along the road, but that’s to be expected. It’s normal to have kinks to work out in any situation. Thankfully, my co-teacher was quick to communicate with me. She brought up concerns or asked for more clarification on the curriculum when she needed. She offered her opinion on activities or assessments we were planning and expressed when she didn’t feel she was being supported in the curriculum enough in order to be successful with the students. Over this time, while continuing our communication and honesty, we found ourselves becoming friends just as much as co-teachers.

We recently found out that we will be partnered again next year and we both felt a relief knowing nothing will change and we can continue to work on our relationship. We have started planning for next year, and because efficiency is my thing, we have created a running GoogleDoc where we can put in ideas for activities or management strategies that we would like to discuss before the year starts again in August. I feel excited and better prepared knowing I have the support of my co-teacher and friend!

Stephanie and I with our student who moved to Europe in the middle of the school year this year. We missed this little guy a lot as the year progressed on and is finishing up now.

Now, I want to say that my first co-teacher is an amazing woman with a giant heart, who genuinely wants to help students be successful. She is working wonderfully with her new co-teacher, and they have made great strides with some of the more difficult children in their class. We are great coworkers now, and chat often. She gave me a beautiful necklace for my birthday and will often check in to make sure I am doing okay (last year I got quite sick towards the middle of the year and spent some time in the hospital, but I'll save that for another post).

That being said… there are many reasons my first co-teaching experience failed. The first reason being that I went into this situation thinking of myself as the teacher and not as a teaching team. That caused every. single. thing. I did to automatically not support my co-teacher. Even when I thought I was being supportive, I was not. Giving up the responsibility was surprisingly more difficult than I though it would be.

The next is that we really didn’t communicate like we should have. We didn’t express our opinions or concerns enough to each other. We didn’t say, “No I don’t like that idea, how about….” We went on saying “yeah that’s great!” or “sure sounds good!” even when we didn’t agree. This caused a rift and introduced resentment into our relationship.

Finally, there is something to be said about our cultural differences. Co-teaching with two differing cultures invites both positives and negatives. We positively affected our students by bringing our different cultures to the classroom and helping these kids become more internationally minded. We negatively affected each other by having conflicting ideas of how to solve problems amongst ourselves or how to handle other work-related problems, like parent complaints. Finding ways to make these differences work for you, your co-teacher, and your students is vital to having a successful classroom environment.

Here’s some advice on how to make a co-teaching classroom work:

1. COMMUNICATION is actually key. Seriously, never underestimate the power of communication. Also, remember that this communication needs to be positive. If you’re angry about something and need to talk with your co-teacher about it, but you feel like you’re going to lose it… maybe take a walk. When you’re calmer, try to talk it out. Screaming and yelling isn’t respectful or helpful in anyone’s eyes.

2. RESPECT your co-teacher’s culture. Embrace ways that you and your co-teacher can incorporate both cultures. This also stands for your students but that’s an entirely different post. (Good time to say that if you are a white teacher, you should definitely have a listen to the Teaching While White podcast- seriously go do it). Even if you and your co-teacher are from the same country, your culture and your experiences may not be the same as his/hers. Respect that and learn from it!

3. Remember that in this situation, your opinion is not the only one that matters. Include your co-teacher in your decision-making. Luckily for me, my co-teacher and I don’t always teach classes together so in those classes I am able to do my own thing, which gives me a bit more flexibility in how I handle situations or approaches to learning. Any other time though, I check with her about her opinion or ideas for a class, activity, etc. before I do anything! And she checks with me.

4. You don’t know everything. Remember that a good teacher is a life-long learner. You may be a great teacher, but you always have room for growth. Embrace that space, learn from your co-teacher, and watch how they handle situations or teach a concept. You never know what you might pick up!

Co-teaching is an interesting transition from being the sole classroom teacher. You share the load, plan together, and learn cooperation and communication skills. You figure out how to be tolerant of others and their ideas/opinions even more than before. You appreciate the support from your co-teacher on those tough days when things just don’t seem to be working out (you know what I’m talking about!).

I hope this post and these tips help you to see the benefits and positivity that can come from a co-teaching model. I hope this helps you feel more prepared in how to approach a co-teaching classroom. I hope that if there is a co-teaching opportunity that you have been deciding if you should take it, that you take it!! I know you will learn and grow so much!



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