Common Co-Teaching Challenges: There Are Ways to Address Them

Co-teaching is the pairing of classroom teachers together in a single classroom to share the responsibilities of instructing and managing students, including sharing the responsibilities of the planning process. Co-teaching can be incredibly helpful in classrooms with a wide range of abilities. For instance, a content teacher can focus on instructing a majority of students, while a special education teacher can focus on providing special assistance to students with learning disabilities and IEP’s.

While co-teaching can often be a life-saver, many co-teachers find themselves struggling for balance. Potential challenges can arise when sharing your classroom with another teacher, but we have provided some tips for addressing these challenges.

Common co-teaching challenges

When two teachers share a single classroom and a single set of students, problems may arise. These are the most common challenges that co-teachers face:

  •         Who is responsible for who?

Often, co-teachers are responsible for different students, such as one co-teacher being responsible for all students in the class who have an IEP. But this can lead to some blurry lines when roles get temporarily reversed. It can be difficult for both co-teachers to feel they have an equal responsibility for all students.

  •         Whose classroom management style do we use?

Classroom management is the foundation for content instruction, but each teacher varies in their personal classroom management style. Some teachers are more authoritative, while others are more approachable. When two teachers share a classroom, students will become confused about expectations if two different style of management and two separate rule systems are being used.

  •         Who gives grades?

This seemingly simple question can turn into a power struggle between co-teachers. It would seem that the teacher who gives students their final grades would be the teacher who is most in-charge. It can be difficult to decide how to split up this responsibility.

  •         What do we tell the students?

Your students may wonder why there are always two teachers in the room. The students may question why one of the teachers seems to help only particular students. You and your co-teacher will need to decide on the way to best explain this to your students.

  •         When do we have time to plan together?

Co-teachers must plan together in order to have cohesive lessons and provide what is best for each student. But with everyone’s busy schedule, many co-teachers find it difficult to set aside time to plan together.

How to address these challenges

All of the common co-teaching challenges listed above can be remedied by the following five best practices:

This is the most important point. Regardless of your differences in methods and style, it is absolutely essential that you and your co-teacher respect each other. You don’t have to be best friends, but you do have to get along at work for the sake of your students. If you don’t respect each other, how can you expect the students to respect both of you as authority figures?

  •         Clearly define roles and responsibilities

More problems occur when roles and responsibilities aren’t clearly defined. If one co-teacher is in charge of only the IEP students and is responsible for grading their work, discuss this at the very beginning of the school year and make sure both teachers agree on the splitting of responsibilities. You don’t want any preventable confusion to arise later on.

  •         Be flexible

All of teaching, in general, requires flexibility, but it’s even more necessary when you’re co-teaching. Remain open-minded to the ideas your co-teacher has for the classroom. You may find that the students are more engaged by her way of teaching a particular lesson rather than the way you used to always teach that concept.

  •         Communicate

Communicate your expectations with each other. What do you hope to gain from a year in a co-teacher classroom? What are you expecting the daily environment to look like? When do you expect to plan together? These things are often assumed without being discussed. It is also necessary to communicate clearly about anything that upsets you. You wouldn’t want to become resentful of your co-teacher throughout the entire year because she did one thing you didn’t like. Discuss these issues and remain open and honest.

Co-teaching is what you make of it. If you let problems fester and never address them with your co-teacher, then neither you nor the students will benefit from being in a co-teacher classroom. But, if you communicate with each other and are clear about the responsibilities of each person, you will be fostering the co-teaching environment you always dreamed of.

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