Q: I’m an English teacher in an inclusion classroom. I co-teach with a special educator, Mike. I use the word “co-teach” loosely because I’m not sure he’s doing any teaching. I stand at the front of the room and do the heavy lifting. He’s like a bee buzzing around “pollinating the flowers.” He checks to see if anyone is stuck and will answer a question here and there, but that’s about it. I’m sick of his laziness, and I’m starting to resent him. We’re both teachers and get the same paycheck, yet it’s all falling on me. Without telling his department chair and permanently damaging our relationship, how can I fix this? My goal is to share the responsibilities and be less exhausted.
A: Co-teaching is tricky. You have to balance egos and build trust. It’s important to have confidence in each other and to respect each other’s expertise. The relationship can fall apart for any number of reasons, including simply not liking each other. It takes work to make it work, and Mike isn’t pulling his weight. I understand your frustration.
As co-teachers in an inclusion classroom, students are supposed to benefit from your combined training. You each bring something different to the table and need to collaborate. You offer content specialization, but Mike knows how to adapt the curriculum to best meet students’ needs. You should take equal responsibility for planning, goal setting, assessment, problem solving, and classroom management. He should feel like it’s his class, too.
So my first question is, what’s getting in Mike’s way? Is he insecure? Does he feel like he doesn’t have a good grasp of the material? Is he worried about stepping on your toes? Does he even know there’s an issue? What are his goals?
Start by having an honest conversation about how you feel and your expectations. You also can set up regular planning sessions to review student progress, make adjustments, and come up with strategies. During these sessions, you can preview content and ensure that Mike knows the curriculum well. If he doesn’t, he’ll end up functioning like an assistant, and that’s a bad outcome for everyone involved.
You also can use joint planning meetings to talk about how you both can be actively engaged with students. For example, Mike could help develop test questions, take responsibility for a specific activity, or teach a breakout group. You might need to make suggestions if he isn’t used to taking ownership. Hopefully, as he does more, he’ll have more buy-in and be more proactive.
If you’re uncomfortable giving directions, remember that it’s a two-way street. He’s presumably making sure that you modify assignments and give everyone their accommodations. In turn, you can share your goals for the classroom and your vision for how it should run. Be specific and clear.
If you find that it’s more work to get Mike on board than to just do it yourself, he’s in need of additional training. Does he have opportunities to pursue professional development? If he expresses insecurity about his role, you could suggest that he attend a seminar or conference on cooperative teaching. Perhaps you’ll discover that he’s motivated to improve. He may be frustrated and dislike feeling like an aide but have no idea how to change the dynamic. Presumably he went into teaching to actually teach, not “pollinate the flowers.”
Solving this issue may take some time, tact, planning, and continuing education, but stick with it. If you combine your knowledge, everyone wins. The co-teaching relationship will improve, you’ll both feel like professionals, you’ll be less overburdened, and you’ll meet the needs of all learners.
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