Well, here I go again, the end of another school year, and a time to look back and reflect on the successes and the failures of this past year.
First, let me remind you that we tried something new this year; a self-contained, co-taught classroom at the fifth grade level. We worried going into this about how the parents and students would respond since all of the other fifth graders switch classes between two teachers. We were so gratified by the positive response from our parents who seemed to sincerely appreciate everything we did for their kids. Since we were with their children all day, we were able to develop a deeper relationship with each one, and that seemed to be appreciated by the majority of our parents.
Because our students had our full attention all day and did not divide their time between our classroom and that of another teacher’s, they thrived on the extra attention they received and the extra time we had to get to know them better. That extra time allowed us to better identify their strengths and weaknesses, which proved instrumental in our ability to individualize instruction.
Another success we experienced this year was the flexibility to break students down into groups when it was clear that they did not understand the material, and also to challenge those who were ready to move ahead. With three adults in a classroom: me, an intervention specialist, and a paraprofessional, we had a flexibility that you normally only dream about.
Again, because we were self-contained, our schedule was extremely flexible. If students were struggling with a concept, we could adjust our schedule at a moment’s notice and continue with that concept until they got it, or if they seemed to catch on quickly, we could forge ahead and move on to other plans faster. That kind of flexibility is a luxury which we thoroughly enjoyed, since it is a rarity in a team teaching scenario.
I also believe that, because we got to know our students so well, they were not as reluctant to admit when they did not understand something we were doing. In a traditional setting, that is often not the case. Our students were comfortable enough with each other and with us to be more honest about their needs.
Finally, I believe that our students learned to be more respectful and understanding of each other’s differences. They learned very early on not to question differences in assigned work, whether in content or quantity. And our general education students were very willing to work with our IEP students and peer tutor them, which our IEP students thoroughly enjoyed. This aspect of our experiment was a win-win situation for everyone.
As to the failures of our experiment, I honestly can only think of one: I think it held our Gen Ed students back a little bit. We sometimes had to move slower than they needed to move, which I know was frustrating to them at times. Information which they could process quickly took longer for the IEP students, which sometimes led to visible frustration and boredom. Frankly, finding the appropriate balance between the pacing of material for Gen Ed versus IEP students is a problem in any classroom, I just feel it was more pronounced in ours since we had an equal number of both students.
Next year we will be going back to traditional team teaching due to a reduction in staff. While I am unhappy that much of what we spent hours creating and preparing will probably go unused next year, I am so very grateful that I had this opportunity. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and the lessons we learned will help us be better teachers in the future.