Let’s begin with a quick game of word association. What’s one of the first thoughts you have if you’re asked, “What does classroom management in an inclusion classroom look like? What does the instructional process look like?”
Do you think about a smoothly run classroom where each teacher has consistent, specific, and meaningful roles? Or do you think about a chaotic classroom scene where two teachers are not in sync, which leads to lost instructional time. Or, equally as sad, do you think about one teacher doing most of the teaching, while the other teacher is seldom actively involved in the teaching process?
It is crucial for co-teachers to develop a professional instructional relationship. The way they interact in the classroom, and the way they interact with the students, shapes the way kids in the classroom think about what inclusion means.
So far, Laurie and I have shared perceptions of co-teaching through the lens of educators. I’d like to devote this post to the perspective of the students. Well, at least some students — my 7th grade study hall class, in fact. In this class, students have time to quietly study, but I also have the great pleasure of discussing meaningful questions with them. Recently, I asked them to explain their thoughts about having two teachers in the room.
These 7th graders are all general education students who have had a variety of experiences being a part of inclusion classrooms. They had lots of observations to share — and some even took the time to express their ideas through drawing. Here’s what they had to say:
Q: What do you think about having two teachers in the room?
I personally feel like it is very important to have a second teacher in the room. While one teacher is teaching the class, the other teacher can make the rounds and help single students at a time if they don’t get the subject.
I like how there is double the help.
I like that there are more than one person to help me. I don’t like that it’s harder to talk to a friend.
It’s good because there is more than one person watching the class. Also, if one is sick, there is always one teacher left who knows what’s going on, so she can tell the sub the right way to do things.
Sometimes it’s confusing because they cut each other off all the time and I don’t always know what they’re talking about.
I wish the co-teacher would just stay quiet—she talks too much. She is always interrupting the real teacher.
I hate it because you can’t get away with anything! The second teacher always says, “Give me your gum!”
One good thing is there is double the help. One bad thing is you can never slack off without being seen.
I like it when the co-teacher explains what’s going on because the real teacher usually speaks too fast. But having the second teacher helps us to know what we have to do.
Having two teachers means double the supervision. Let’s say you want to slack off because you’re tired and you to let go for five minutes. That second teacher, or even worse, both teachers could be there and watching you.
Sometimes it depends. It is usually a good thing because if one teacher is confusing there is a second teacher there to help you to understand.
Generally, the kids view having two teachers as a positive thing. Yet, it’s interesting that many students see one teacher (typically the general education teacher) as the “real” teacher. And the special education teacher is the “co-teacher,” where co-teacher seems to signify “helping teacher.” Is it possible for the two teachers to plan ahead and implement instruction in ways that depicts both teachers as “real” teachers? And both teachers as “co-teachers”?
Q: Why do you think some classes have two teachers?
I believe that there are two teachers because some kids need extra help.
They help the special ed kid. (OK, so here’s a good place to discuss the need for person first language.)
There are two teachers because they need to help the kids with learning needs.” (OK, nice person first language, but don’t all students have learning needs?)
My opinion is that there are two teachers in the room because some kids in the class need extra help.
Apparently these kids get the fact that some students need additional support in the classroom. But clearly a better message needs to be sent. And the message needs to be sent by both teachers through the modeling of parity, respect, valued roles and responsibilities, and hard work.
Q: Are the two teachers there for all the students?
And in one flash of a second the group responded in unison with a drawn out, echoing, Noooo.
I must admit, Although I wasn’t surprised, I was a bit disheartened. But who wouldn’t be?
CheckPoint #1: Asking students to discuss their views on inclusion can give us a clear view of how we are portraying the process of inclusive education to our students. What do we do to contribute to an accurate assessment of what inclusion should be? Also, what are we doing to possibly mislead the students toward misconceptions? Are we sending the right messages to students? If you’d like to know how you are doing — just ask your students!
CheckPoint #2: Sit down with your co-teacher — review your roles and responsibilities. Set the classroom stage so that you both will be perceived as “real…co-teachers” by your students. Here are six steps for successful co-teaching, provided by the National Education Association that could help you to keep your focus.
And then check in with us, and tell us how it’s going…