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Right Theory, Wrong Setup

Ms. T. will be guest-blogging every other week or so here at GothamSchools, sharing her experience of working in a Collaborative Team Teaching classroom. Collaborative Team Teaching (CTT) is when two teachers work in a classroom that is 60% general education students and 40% students with special needs.

The more I learn about Collaborative Team Teaching, the more I believe in its potential to succeed with students. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a school and experience what a CTT classroom should look like and discuss what makes this particular classroom (and school, for that matter) successful.

The first, and best, thing I saw was the actual teaching and learning taking place in the classroom environment. A weird thing for a teacher to say… Doesn’t learning and teaching happen in my classroom? It does, kind of, despite the constant battle with five students potentially destroying any chance to teach. Seeing an effective classroom reminded me of what a classroom is supposed to look and feel like as a teacher engages her students in learning. Unfortunately, it made me realize that my crazed mind was starting to think the chaos in my room felt normal. The lack of self-control among a group of my students was starting to cloud all memories of the good life of teaching.

During our visit, we saw two teachers who have been a team for multiple years, a team that has gotten about 95% of their students to get level 3’s (meeting the standards) on state tests. We saw that a CTT classroom can prove successful when set up and ran correctly. We saw hope… Until we walked out of the classroom and were forced to go back to our own classrooms, to our own schools.

One of the people who helped organize this observation and discussion group informed us that we would feel bad after leaving the school that day. As we were discussing our own experiences with CTT, I realized that causing the pit of despair inside me to grow is my lack of control to fix the problems, my lack of control to make my classroom a successful learning environment for my students.

The theory behind CTT, as we discussed that day, was to create a learning environment where the general education students modeled for the higher-performing special education students. The class should be composed with 60% general education and 40% special education. The general education students would pull the special education students up academically through their own academic abilities. A perfect plan, right?

Unfortunately for me, the plan is about as good as a hole in my foot. Our ratio is about 45% general education to 55% special education. Of our general education students, we have two with bottom-level academic abilities and test scores who probably need to be evaluated for special education. The theory behind the CTT classroom got thrown out with the garbage as soon as our class list was composed.

Fortunately, my team teacher and I are a great team (maybe the only good part of our CTT situation). I would even consider working in this school another year, despite it all, just to teach with her again. Yet, I wonder what we can do to get our CTT learning environment on track to the potential it holds.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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