With an increased focus on educating students with special needs with their age appropriate peers, more and more schools are turning to an inclusion model of special education service delivery. When regular education teachers and special education teachers are placed in a co-teaching situation, there can be a great deal of excitement as well as fear for everyone involved. As many teachers can attest to, teaching in an inclusion situation can be a great experience or it can be a very confusing experience. I have been in a number of inclusion classes as the special education teacher and I have had both good and bad experiences. One of the most important factors in determining the success of a co-teaching relationship is an understanding between the teachers of what the roles are in the classroom. Some general education teachers assume that because a special education teacher has been placed in his/her class, that person is an expert in the subject whether it be math, language arts, science, or history. That would be an ideal situation, but most of the time that’s not the case. The regular education teacher is the content area specialist and the special education teacher is a learning strategies specialist. That doesn’t mean that the special education teacher is supposed to handle all of the class’s behavior issues, write referrals, or write hall passes. In order for the co-teaching model to work effectively, the regular education teacher should give the special education teacher access to lesson plans, worksheets, and tests (with answers) in advance so that he or she can make any necessary modifications or suggestions for differentiated instruction.
The special education teacher who is placed in a particular class may not be familiar with the unique details of each of the students who have special needs in that class. In my situation, there are hundreds of students with IEPs in the school and they are divided between nearly a dozen special education case managers. Regular education teachers are provided with student profiles for students who have IEPs at the beginning of the school year. This information should be shared with the special education teacher in the inclusion class to ensure that all students are receiving their accommodations as legally mandated by the IEP.
Communication and having an open mind to suggestions are two key things to keep in mind when working in a co-teaching situation. For more specific information on organizing a classroom, read this article: “Work Smart, Not Hard: Tips for Organizing a High School Classroom.”