Reflections on this Past School Year

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.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on this Past School Year

  1. Kelly Hoyt

    Our school has adopted the co-teaching model this past school year and has experienced pros and cons. My colleague and I work very well together and we are wondering if this model would be appropriate for kindergartners?!? We both feel very fortunate to have full-time T.A.’s in our classrooms, but frequently feel that they do not truly benefit the children because they do not have degrees in education and do not know appropriate ways to challenge and assist the children.
    The first grade team is opening their “divider” between their two rooms this year and will be co-teaching and eliminating their T.A.’s. I am very curious to see how this approach will work with 47 children, but am hopeful that the teachers will be able to develop deeper relationships and be better equipped when identifying their strengths and weaknesses in order to individualize their instructional needs.
    Kindergartners have a limited attention span and need to be actively involved to promote their learning; therefore if two highly qualified collaborative educators were available at all times we could guide their instructional level effectively and meaningfully. It seems as if co-teaching would benefit assessment because we would both know the children very well and be able to design activities that enable each child to demonstrate their understanding of concepts. We would also be able to pace the lessons accordingly and incorporate shorter or longer lessons with hands on practical activities.
    Based on your co-teaching experience with fifth graders, how do you think co-teaching would benefit our kindergartners? Thank you for sharing your co-teaching experience, it provided me with new insights about the increased flexibility and enhancement of individualized instruction.

  2. admin Post author

    Hi, Kelly, I am happy if my experiences can help you in yours. Wow! Kindergarten…that’s a grade level I have had minimal experience in, but I’ll tell you what I think about co-teaching and hope this helps you.

    First, I know what you mean when you talk about your TA’s; they play a huge role in the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of your endeavors. I have had some that were okay and some that were pretty bad. Our TA from this past year was awesome, and even though she had no teaching degree, she had that natural ability to relate to kids, to work well with them in groups and one-on-one, and she knew what you needed before you even asked her. Truly, I tell her all the time that she was the glue that kept us together. She was a blessing, but she will not be with us this year.

    So, we will be working with someone I have worked with in the past, who is very nice and very willing to chip in, but she is limited in what she is capable of doing and has issues with control when working with our students. The goal is to figure out your TA’s strengths and weaknesses as early as possible and be realistic about what he/she is capable of. If you push for too much, you will only frustrate everyone. So you may have to fill in the gaps that creates along with your co-teacher.

    Second, the fact that you and your colleague get along is awesome, and it makes all the difference in the world! Co-teaching is definitely a marriage, which means the two of you will have to also be wed to your intervention specialist because she is the one who will give you the SPED techniques, tools, and patience to make it all come together. There is a tremendous amount of give and take, just like a marriage, and that’s a little harder with three teachers involved. I have done that, too, and will have a team teacher again this year, and we will share our wonderful co-teacher. That’s a whole lot easier if you all get along and can be accommodating with each other.

    Third, I think co-teaching works at any age, with the right modifications. I don’t know how your school works out the logistics, but I am assuming you would split the co-taught kids up into your two classrooms and split up the co-teacher between your two rooms, with each of you getting her pretty equally. I also assume that you have a TA when the co-teacher is not with you.

    So first, plan your more challenging work (especially reading and math) when your co-teacher is in the room. The beauty of co-teaching at any age, is mixing it up all of the time so the kids, especially young kids like yours, are exposed to a variety of teaching strategies, which I assume you have been trained for. Use those strategies and force yourself to try what might seem uncomfortable to you at first. You will learn to love the different teaching techniques, and your kids will love the variety.

    The beauty of more than one adult in your room all of the time is the ability to get your kids up and moving more, to make quick decisions regarding students who seem to be progressing faster and could be pulled into smaller groups for extension activities, or kids who are struggling and need to get small group or one-on-one intervention. We were always ready for either alternative and had planned in advance who would take those kids, because you always want to keep your groups flexible and who works with those groups flexible as well. With kindergarteners, making those quick assessments will be very important, and this is where your biggest successes will probably be.

    And, speaking of assessments, you have the ability with co-teaching to do a lot of your assessing throughout the day in a variety of different ways which frees you from a lot of written assessments, which again is perfect for kindergarten.

    I assume that you do centers in your classroom. For a change of pace, pick a day periodically where you and your team teacher set up a variety of centers in each of your two rooms based on skills that you would like to reinforce as well as a couple that are just for fun but may incorporate working with small groups or partners to practice social skills. Mix the kids up in groups with students from both rooms and each of you man a center and have a center morning. Plenty of interesting activities and movement will make for a wonderful departure from the ordinary. Our fifth graders loved it, and I’m sure kindergartners would, too. We often did it for a holiday and tied the holiday theme into all of the work centers.

    Obviously, I’m getting excited thinking of all of the things you can do with your students this year. I don’t know if I helped at all, but I encourage you to dive in and enjoy your experience. And you can always shoot me a comment any time you need advice or when you want to share a victory. Please keep me informed, don’t hesitate to write, and I wish you the best of luck this year!
    @Kelly Hoyt

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