Co-Teaching as a Partnership
Every classroom has a teacher and students. But what about classrooms that have other adults as well? Who are these people? Co-Teaching with another adult can add a unique element to the classroom setting. If teachers are in a special education classroom, it is very common to have an instructional assistant or paraprofessional. Many larger general education classes have these type of assistants as well. In some classrooms, teachers may have a sign language interpreter for a student who is deaf and uses manual communication.
Instructional Assistants in Co-Teaching
An instructional assistant’s primary role in the special education classroom or general education classroom is to assist the classroom teacher with all areas of the classroom. The assistant is a crucial extra pair of hands, eyes, ears and voice. This may include preparing materials, assisting with behavior management, working with small groups, or working one on one with students.
The teacher is responsible for presenting new material and instruction, as well as responsible for student learning, growth, and gains. Instructional assistants cannot provide initial instruction of a concept or skill. However, the instructional assistant can provide support after the initial instruction is provided. For students having a hard time understanding concepts, the instructional assistant can provide further explanations, break down, and expand on those concepts.
When the instructional assistant is in a special education classroom working with one teacher and set of students all day, it is easier to build a partnership. Both the teacher and the assistant know the routines and the expectations. If the instructional assistant is providing supports in the general education classrooms, it may only be for a certain amount of time each day. It is important to keep lines of communication open. Expectations should be established from day one because each teacher runs their classroom uniquely and assistants may have to adjust to multiple teaching styles and classroom environments.
Interpreters in Co-Teaching
An interpreter is provided to a student who is deaf and uses manual communication, whether American Sign Language, Signed English, or Conceptually Accurate Signed English (a combination of American Sign Language and Signed English). The interpreter’s primary role is communication. They become the ears and voice for the student they are working with. The interpreter will not assist the teacher in any fashion. They will not work with other students in small groups or for one on one learning. They will not assist with classroom management or behaviors.
However, the interpreter will provide access to spoken language and environmental sounds. If the phone rings, an airplane flies overhead, there’s a knock on the door, the fire alarm sounds, the interpreter will communicate this information. Obviously, during teacher instruction, the interpreter will provide the information. But they will also provide the information being spoken by other students, or between the teacher and another adult in the classroom. If the student has a question or want to contribute to the discussion, this is done through the interpreter. The interpreter, like an instructional assistant, can provide support of instruction already provided if the student is having a hard time grasping the concept.
While the roles of an instructional assistant and an interpreter differ, Co-Teaching can take some time to get used to. Teachers should keep lines of communication open, be clear on expectations, and be flexible. Developing a partnership with other adults in the classroom will be a tremendous benefit to the students in the class.