by Matthew Halpern
In my kindergarten classroom, there are two teachers: Pat Douglass and myself. We combined our classes two years ago by opening up the wall between our classrooms and merging them into one. Now we teach thirty-three students—the equivalent of two full classes—together, all day, every day.
Co-teaching with another kindergarten teacher has been an amazing opportunity, with great benefits for everyone involved. For the children, there are two adults with whom to establish meaningful relationships and more opportunities for differentiated instruction. The parents gain an additional perspective on their child's abilities and needs. And Pat and I get the benefit of a teaching partner with whom to share ideas.
I know my situation is unusual, and most teachers cannot plunge into full-time co-teaching the way I have. However, I highly recommend teaming up with another teacher, even if you do it in a more limited way. That's how Pat and I started. A few years ago, when she was new to our school and I was new to teaching kindergarten, we started by doing some planning together and observing in each other's classrooms. Next we tried combining our classes for certain activities. Read-alouds were an easy way to begin. Later, as we got to know all the children, we did more interactive activities together. When the school's traveling interactive whiteboard came to my classroom, I invited Pat's class to join us for some math lessons and games. This gave Pat, who was less comfortable with the interactive whiteboard, a chance to observe and build her confidence. She soon joined me in the lessons, and eventually led lessons for both classes when the interactive whiteboard moved on to her classroom.
While I led the way with the interactive whiteboard lessons, when it came time for cooking, which is not my forte, Pat took the lead. Working together, even some of the time, made school a richer experience for our students and gave us practice in integrating our teaching styles. Eventually, we began planning field trips and celebrations together. We combined our groups for some parties and increased the impact of parent volunteers by sharing them during these often hectic times.
Collaborating with another teacher is deeply rewarding, but it isn't always easy. As teachers, we're used to running the show alone. Here are some suggestions that may help make co-teaching go more smoothly for you:
- Pair up with someone you want to learn from. Many schools assign mentors to new teachers, but that person may not teach the same grade level as you or be located in a nearby classroom. Pat and I started collaborating because we saw that we could help each other. She was new to our school, but she had far more experience teaching kindergarten than I.
- Make time to plan together. One of the easiest ways to collaborate is by planning together. That first year, Pat and I didn't have all our planning periods together, but we had a few. We also made time during lunch and before school to work together. Everyone knows teaching can be an isolating profession. Making time to discuss and share ideas with a colleague can really help with that.
- Observe other teachers. Spending informal time in other classrooms is one of the most valuable ways to add tools to your teaching toolbox. The administration at our school values teachers taking time to observe others and provides coverage for this. In addition to arranging scheduled observations, I made impromptu visits to Pat's room, often popping in while my class was at a special. Luckily, she didn't mind me dropping in!
All this laid the groundwork and trust needed for us to take the plunge and combine our classrooms. We had some careful and honest conversations about our teaching styles and philosophies and, after getting support from our administration, decided to go for it. The first year was challenging as we found our footing, but the second year has been much more seamless. I hope you will give co-teaching—in some form—a try. It might help you grow as a teacher and expand the variety of opportunities you can offer your students.
Matthew Halpern teaches a combined kindergarten class with Pat Douglass at Windham Primary School in Windham, ME. He writes lookatmyhappyrainbow.com, a blog about his experiences as a male kindergarten teacher.