It’s hard to believe summer is almost over and our kiddos will soon be heading back to school! I still remember those final summer days when I nervously waited to learn which teacher would be mine and which friends would be in my class. Now that I’m a parent, the waiting is different, but I still feel a twinge of nerves. Will my son and daughters be happy with their teachers? Will they be kind? Will they be skilled? Will everyone’s personalities match?
One year, I learned my oldest child’s class would have two teachers. This is called a collaborative, or co-taught, class and is typically comprised of a general education teacher and a special education teacher. In most classrooms, the special education teacher not only assists students with special needs, but is also available to the general education students.
As a former teacher, I experienced collaborative teaching myself. I had a wonderful special ed teacher who would come into my classroom for about an hour a day, and we had a great working relationship. I know that every student in my classroom benefitted from having two of us in the room. However, I had no experience with a full-time collaborative class, so I decided to learn more.
Conducting an informal poll of my friends, I discovered that the opinions of collaborative classrooms varied widely. Some friends thought it was a positive to have two teachers in the classroom. Others worried that the need for two teachers was a red flag, indicating a class with behavior issues or significant academic needs.
It turns out my friends weren’t alone in their concerns. The more I talked about collaborative classrooms, the more concerns I heard. Parents worried that their children wouldn’t be challenged. They suspected that content would be below grade-level in order to meet the needs of struggling students. They worried that students with behavior issues would distract their children from learning, and they worried that their children wouldn’t get enough attention because, out of necessity, attention would go to the students who needed extra assistance.
It was time to look at facts. Thankfully, research and further reading painted a different picture than the fears I heard from parents. A collaborative classroom offers benefits to all students, not just those identified as special ed. For the purposes of dispelling myths surrounding collaborative classrooms and their imagined negative effects on general ed students, I will list many of the research-identified benefits to general ed students here:
– Behavioral and academic expectations remain high for students with and without disabilities. General ed students are required to meet certain academic performance goals, which don’t change with the inclusion of special ed students.
– Students receive more individual attention and have more interaction with teachers. Having two classroom teachers increases the amount of face time for all students.
– Students have increased exposure to, and practice with, cognitive strategies and study skills. A collaborative classroom is naturally comprised of many learning styles and needs. Strategies that are helpful for special ed students, and any student for that matter, are learned and practiced by the whole class.
– Co-teaching results in more on-task time as both teachers are able to manage the behavior of all students.
– Students can experience improved academic performance. General ed students benefit from small-group teach/reteach occurrences that are a standard teaching practice in collaborative classrooms. Students who have missed a concept have the benefit of being able to access the additional small group instructional support.
– General ed students benefit from an increased emphasis on social skills, which often results in a stronger classroom community.
– Co-teaching makes it easier to conduct engaging, hands-on activities, as there are two teachers to help with the setup and management of materials.
– Collaborative classrooms can provide for flexible testing options. General ed students can access small group testing in the case of text anxiety or other test related concerns.
– Teachers can share expertise and try new teaching methods, allowing for “best practices” teaching, which benefits all students.
– Teachers in a collaborative arrangement report increased professional satisfaction and levels of personal support. A more content teacher can lead to an increase in both student morale and performance.
Clearly, a collaborative classroom is nothing to fear. My daughter had a wonderful year, and I was impressed by the quality of instruction she received from both of her teachers. The benefits of a collaborative class abound for both special ed and general ed students, and my research, plus our experience, found me hoping that another collaborative classroom was in our future.
Alison Bogle is an Austin-based freelance writer and mom of three.