Co-teaching according to Wenzlaff et al. (2002) is described as “two or more individuals who come together in a collaborative relationship for the purpose of shared work...for the outcome of achieving what none could have done alone”
There is no doubt that co-teaching is an effective practice to better serve English language learners.
Co-teaching is defined as two educators who team-teach by providing simultaneous instruction to a group of students. Through this model, students receive content-based language learning which means that students receive content learning as well as language acquisition support.
Co-teaching or team teaching is an opportunity to create a culture of shared experiences and shared responsibilities among two teachers. This, of course, increases the opportunity to provide a focus and intentional differentiation support students may need.
But as easy and as effective as it may sound - co-teaching can be challenging for many of us!
This was true for Mrs. Eudy and me during the 2019-2020 school year. However, we both faced our fears by putting our students' needs FIRST and the outcome was very effective. We now recognize that co-teaching draws on the strengths of both - the content area teacher who understands the structure, the content, pacing of the curriculum - and the special area teacher who can identify unique challenges and individual needs students may have to fully access the content.
Two Teachers' Tale
Mrs. Eudy - Math teacher
"If I am being honest, when I first found out that I was going to have a few newcomer students in my class I was nervous. I was starting my ninth year of teaching and the first time I had a newcomer student was the year before and I still did not know if I had done enough for that student. That is always a fear of mine for all my students though. Have I done enough to fully ensure their success? What could have I done differently? How could I have been better? I have high expectations for all my students, but even higher for myself. I had never had any formal training on teaching newcomer students, so the fear of helping my newcomer students feel and be successful was in the front of my mind as soon as I found out that I had two newcomer students at our open house in August. On the first day of school, I found out that I had another newcomer student being added to the same class period as my other newcomer students, but I also found out that Emily would be joining me as a co-teacher. This made me both relieved and nervous at the same time. I knew that Emily was a Rockstar ESL teacher and I knew that us working together could help our newcomers be successful in our Math 1 course, but I was also scared that she wouldn’t think I did enough to help our students.
We talked a lot about how we want our newcomers to learn the language and to grow in mathematics – especially because some of our newcomers came to us with interrupted formal education. I wanted to make sure that they not only grew with their math skills but that they were prepared and felt confident to move on to Math 2. Part of my fear of not being able to do enough for my newcomers was because I had 25+ students in my class and I felt guilty that I couldn’t be near them enough to answer their questions if they were lost, stuck, etc.
From day 1 of Emily being in my classroom, she jumped right in with helping our students not only with the language but with the math material as well and I was so thankful for her. Knowing that she was there to guide them if they got lost or to get my attention (or encourage them to get my attention) when I was helping other students made me feel so much better. At one point we had 5 newcomer students in this class of 25+ but knowing that she was there to support our students and me lessened the overwhelming feeling that I had. She would create a small group with them and work the math problems with them or just be there to guide and encourage them and I had so much respect for her because she did that. I know that math can be an intimidating subject for many people – including teachers – and I appreciated her so much for being willing to get into the math and help when I could not get over there.
Our newcomers were some of the hardest working students in our class and they were thriving by the springtime before our classroom time was cut short and we had to move to remote learning. I still don’t know that I feel confident that I did everything that I needed, but I do know that I loved having newcomers in my classroom and am looking forward to teaching with Emily again this year."
Mrs. Francis - ESL teacher
Uncertainty - When I think about the moment I found out I was going to be co-teaching in a high school math class, the first thing I remember feeling was uncertainty. I was very intimidated by the subject and by the thought of working with someone I had never worked with before. However, I armed myself with the understanding that I am a language acquisition teacher, and no matter what content my students were learning, I was going to be there for them to support them access the content. I also began embracing the thought that a successful co-teaching requires collaboration and an investment of time and effort.
I walked in Mrs. Eudy's math class with the idea that math wasn't for me and that I was bad at math. Because we had several newcomers in the classroom, and I knew nothing about the content, I paid very close attention to Mrs. Eudy's lessons. It didn't take me long to begin LOVING math. The pace she uses to explain her lessons and the intentional instructional flow in her lessons made it very easy for me to follow and understand. Our newcomers were able to understand a lot of her modeled lessons. From day one I was actively involved in the lessons. Not only supporting my students with the English language acquisition process but encouraging our students to perform at the highest of their ability. I would work with students in a small group or facilitated peer support. I would make myself available with anything Mrs. Eudy needed from me. I would make sure students always maintained undivided attention as I knew that the modalities the teacher was providing were effective for students to acquire the learning.
I wasn't very confident about providing strategies and activities to make content comprehensible but Mrs. Eudy was very good about asking my opinion in many assignments and tests. She validated my expertise and honored my opinions. This, of course, always made me feel appreciated for my work as an ESL teacher.
Unfortunately, we were not able to complete our academic year together due to the pandemic but the time I was in her class was just enough for me to now love math. I have a whole different mindset about math --- about how it's taught, learned, and appreciated.
I can say that together we created, maintained, and established a strong pedagogical relationship and engage in a balanced co-teaching approach that worked very well for us and our students.
A successful co-teaching requires collaboration and an investment of time and effort.
If you find yourself in a position where you have to decide whether to co-teach or provide services in isolation, we hope that you consider our story to see how a culture of collaboration can and will have a greater impact on students and our profession as well.
Let us know if this story was helpful to you. We'd like to connect with you and support you along our new co-teaching journey.
Thank you for reading!
Math vocabulary cards: https://www.graniteschools.org/mathvocabulary/vocabulary-cards/
Lessons, games, and activities: https://illuminations.nctm.org/Default.aspx
Illustrated Mathematics dictionary: https://www.mathsisfun.com/definitions/index.html
Multilingual glossaries for ELA and Math: