Including Co-Teaching in a Teacher Preparation Program: A Vital Addition

Article excerpt

Abstract

Co-teaching involves having a general and special education professional collaborate in the same classroom, working with a heterogeneous group of students. While this has become one of the more popular options for including students with disabilities into general education classes, few teacher preparation programs provide instruction in co-teaching. Far fewer actually model the technique for teacher trainees. Hence, it is not surprising that new teachers frequently feel ill-prepared to actually co-teach. This article describes a teacher preparation program in California that includes elementary, secondary, and special education students in a course co-taught by university and school-based instructors. The benefits and difficulties of co-teaching a university class are discussed and strategies for developing a successful co-teaching relationship are provided.

Co-teaching. By now, most educators have heard of it. Sometimes it's called collaborative or cooperative teaching, sometimes team teaching, sometimes teaming. No matter the name, as teachers obtain preliminary or clear credentials, or attend professional development seminars and conferences, the importance of co-teaching and collaboration between general and special educators continues to be emphasized. What exactly is co-teaching? Co-teaching, as defined by Cook and Friend (1995), is when "two or more professionals deliver substantive instruction to a diverse or blended group of students in a single physical space" (p.2). In fact, according to the National Center for Restructuring and Inclusion (1995), co-teaching is the most common service delivery model for teaching students with disabilities in the general education classroom. So, if co-teaching is so popular, what is the concern?

While co-teaching offers plenty of potential benefits for both students and faculty and is well documented in the literature (e.g., Friend & Cook, 2000; Hughes & Murawski, 2001; Walther-Thomas, 1997), the concern for most teachers lies in how co-teaching is implemented--or rather how it's not implemented (Murawski & Swanson, 2001). When two credentialed (or at least experienced) teachers are collaborating together in one classroom, great things can happen--few teachers will deny that. However, if those same teachers don't know how to work effectively together, or perhaps don't want to work together, that same situation can be disastrous for both students and teachers. The importance of demonstration as a technique for teaching a skill is well known and accepted amongst educators. For example, when introducing a new technique for teaching reading, most faculty describe the steps and rationale involved, model the technique and then, using guided practice procedures, have students practice the technique until competency is established. Why then do we expect our budding educators to learn about co-teaching without ever seeing it in practice?

Before any actual strategies for co-teaching can be utilized by teachers, it is critical to recognize that co-teaching (like many other special education initiatives) has been frequently presented to special education staff only (Murawski, in press). Teacher preparation courses at colleges and universities often "preach to the choir," expounding on the virtues of co-teaching to prospective special educators. However, it is important to note that general education teachers are less likely to have had this type of instruction and will therefore have a very different frame of reference than their special education colleagues. Thus, including both general and special educators in any efforts to teach and model co-teaching is imperative for real progress to be made.

Hudson and Glomb (1997) are among others (e.g., Cruz & Zaragoza, 1998; Dynak, Whitten, & Dynak, 1997; Hohenbrink, Johnston, & Westhoven, 1997) who have recognized that very few institutions of higher education (IHE's) actually implement co-teaching between faculty in their teacher preparation programs or even prepare their general and special educators to work collaboratively with one another. …