I invited Carlota Holder to write this guest post on co-teaching. You might also be interested in The Best Resources On Co-Teaching With ELLs – Please Suggest More.

Carlota Holder is an EL Coordinator and master teacher for Enlace Academy on the west side of Indianapolis. She just began her second year in this role and her 10th year of experience with English language learners. Her grade level experience ranges from Kindergarten to 8th grade with English language and Spanish instruction. Her roles have ranged from EL assistant, EL teacher, SIOP co-teacher, EL coach, and Spanish teacher.

Co-Teaching Dos and Don’ts

Having finally graduated from my EL courses in grad school, I never knew that I’d be going into a field where most of my instruction would be taking place with a co-teacher. Who would have thought? I began teaching English language students as an instructional assistant pushing into classrooms and I was lucky enough to have mentors that let me assist and observe their EL leveled classes. You know, the EL classes where students come to you to receive English language instruction. But leave it to me to finally be on my own and be responsible for EL students in a completely different environment, a co-teaching one. No one taught me how to co-teach. Here’s what I learned.

Don’t assume that the teachers you’re supporting or co-teaching with have background knowledge on second language acquisition.

Do help them learn through trial and error. This will help them build their background knowledge and shows you trust them and their content.

So many times I wanted to tell teachers how to teach their materials to our students, but I learned the hard way that content teachers dislike that, it’s a threat to them. They know they are experts at their material and even though you’re not threatening “their material” that’s how it comes off. Instead let teachers make mistakes. Jump in and say, “I like how you did …., maybe next time we could do ….” Then after that add some second language acquisition data to support your suggestion. A lot of times I would take what they had developed back to my classroom with me and “play” with it. I would remake it with the suggestions I gave them and attach it in a follow-up email. This shows your co-teacher that you’re also willing to put in the work.

Don’t refer to students as my students to your co-teachers.

Do refer to students as our students to your co-teachers.

How many times do we refer to our students as my students? It’s hard not to right? But when you’re in a co-teaching situation it’s important that you refer to your students as our students. In a co-teaching situation you are working towards the same goal, to improve the language and content knowledge of all students. The students belong to both of you and both of you are responsible for their education. This is the first acknowledgement that you’re working as a team.

Don’t avoid planning and collaboration, no matter what it takes.

Do take time inside or outside of your contract hours to plan and collaborate.

A lot of excuses I hear when it comes to co-teaching are “my school doesn’t give me time to plan and collaborate with my co-teachers” or “I don’t have time to plan and collaborate with my co-teachers”. It’s nothing new and in a supportive school they would give you time, but here’s how to tackle that issue. Eat lunch with your co-teacher and plan or collaborate. Stay an extra half hour after school to plan and collaborate. Offer to visit them on their prep, or just show up to plan and collaborate. You could even plan and collaborate off campus with some margaritas. (You’ll be surprised how much you can get done!) Here’s the thing, once you try these things out just a little bit, planning and collaboration can then begin to happen digitally. You’ll start sharing your plans, assignments, e-mailing each other for suggestions, etc. Google drive is the BEST collaborative resource to ever exist. If planning and collaboration can’t happen physically, be sure to use whatever you can digitally, but continue to be persistent and patient.

Don’t allow one teacher to take all the responsibilities for instruction.

Do share responsibilities for instruction.

Your co-teacher is an expert in their content area, you are an expert in language acquisition, together you make a phenomenal team. Share responsibilities with each other. Offer to do some grading. Offer to make assignments for certain groups of students. My favorite was offering to make visual supports for my teachers. I would tell them my ideas, and then ask for their advice on the content portion because I admittedly am not the content expert and I want my supports to be valuable, not only to our students, but to my co-teacher as well. This way we can build our resources and continue to use them year after year.

Don’t undermine the other teacher’s authority or question the teacher in front of students.

Do treat each other as equals in the classroom.

This is important as any power struggle in the classroom is. Students will lose value in your teaching and authority if you do not treat each other with respect. I had a co-teacher once who was very set in her ways. We had 100 minute ELA blocks (long I know!) and she refused to let any student go to the bathroom for any reason. It was her policy. Now I did not personally agree with that policy because to me using the restroom isn’t something I wanted to dictate. If a student needs to go, then a student needs to go. Well one day I decided to let one of my students use the bathroom. Upon her return I was reprimanded in front of the entire class, as if I were a student. The student thanked me for letting her go poop and we had a few laughs before I walked out of the classroom in an attempt to keep my professional composure. This co-teaching “relationship” thankfully only lasted a year. Some teachers aren’t meant to be co-teachers and that’s ok, but you have to find the ones that can to successfully meet the needs of your English language learners. My students only lost a year of instruction before we were blessed with a new teacher that embraced co-teaching and learning.

Don’t force it.

Do keep trying!

Here’s my last bit of advice, don’t force anyone into being a co-teacher, but find someone who is willing to learn and keep trying. Not everything you try with someone will work. It’s a fail and learn process. Thankfully there’s a book with 7 different co-teaching styles that you can try and a plethora of resources to develop on your own in Co-Teaching and Collaboration for English Language Learners by Andrea Honigsfeld and Maria G. Dove. There’s also a twitter PLN at #ellchat_bkclub that’s more than willing to collaborate with you. Together we can meet and exceed the high expectations we set for our English language learners.