Co-Teaching: Wedding Bliss?

Yesterday, I attended a beautiful wedding for my friend and colleague, Meagan.  Meagan and her new husband have all the ingredients for a successful marriage–mutual respect for each other, shared values and beliefs, the ability to compromise, and a commitment to each other through thick and thin.  Before this wedding, Meagan and I were also married in a sense.  We team-taught a class of thirteen students with intellectual disabilities (ID) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).  And we, too, shared all the ingredients for a successful partnership.  Our class excelled, and we experienced tremendous professional and personal learnings during that year of teaching. It worked so well, that I found myself being paired with a very unlikely co-teacher the next year–my brother. Those were my two best years of teaching.

Co-teaching is a highly beneficial scenario for both students and teachers, but as with any relationship, co-teachers have to work hard to cultivate mutual respect and understanding. Below are five keys to a happy and healthy co-teaching “marriage.”

1.  Small talk is a big deal

You will spend 8 hours a day within arm’s length of your co-teacher.  You will see them more than your real spouse or partner during the week. Get to know them as a person rather than simply another colleague.  What are their hobbies?  Are they married?  Do they have kids?  Are they a morning person? Do they prefer to use their prep period to work together or quietly on their own?  Get these conversations out in the open from the start, because they are more difficult to have later on; nobody wants to learn the hard way.

2.  Identify personality type and teaching style

Meagan and I were both extroverted teachers who preferred to move around the room, engage students in group work, and keep a high-energy classroom. We preferred to improvise and plan more on the fly. My brother, on the other hand, is a thoughtful and subtle introvert who levels out a tense or hyperactive classroom with a sense of competency and calm. Our lessons were highly structured and very detailed. Some co-teachers will energize us while others will balance us out.  Like any relationship, it’s best to go in with an open and positive mindset.

3. Identify strengths and weaknesses

If you’re not comfortable enough with your new co-teacher to have a conversation, it might be helpful for you both to make a list of strengths and weaknesses.  It’s likely that there won’t be too many areas of overlap, so taking a look at this list and agreeing upon duties and responsibilities will offer a sense of control and security to both of you.  A strong partnership relies on someone who is willing to take out the garbage and someone who will clean the bathroom. In this case, it’s probably agreeing upon who will grade tests and who will develop them.

4.  Establish procedures and expectations

We like to think we’re all snowflakes in the world of education, but when it boils down to it, most teachers have the same behavioral expectations and classroom procedures.  Compare paperwork, discuss homework, grading policy, and how you will communicate home. Know that you both will have to make adjustments to the way you ran your classroom before; be open to doing things a different, or perhaps better, way.

5. Agree to make mistakes

It’s hard enough to misspell a word or botch an historical fact in front of students, but when you do this in front of a colleague, it can be downright demoralizing.  Agree from the start to screw up occasionally, support each other in correcting mistakes, and move on.  Remember that we are constantly modeling for our students, so this is the time to show them that we’re all lifelong learners.