George Lucas Educational Foundation
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

What does CTT stand for? Some people think it's "creative thinkers thinking," or "cool teachers teaching." Others say it's "conflict tackling together." While CTT means all of the above, it stands for "collaborative team teaching" and refers to the idea of a co-teaching partnership.

Over the years, I have taught in seven co-teaching partnerships in a wide range of classroom environments. This is the path for many dually certified special education teachers in New York City as the push for inclusion continues to spread. My partnerships have led me on an emotional rollercoaster, yet through thick and thin, my belief in inclusion and collaborative team teaching has remained constant. Though we are making strides in the right direction, we are still in the process of identifying what works in co-teaching.

Having co-taught in first grade, second grade and sixth grade, I feel confident in saying that the greatest challenge is finding a working model for middle school co-teachers. While teaching first and second grade, I had one co-teacher for the entire school year. Whatever challenges came our way, we certainly didn't lack the time to work them out. During my time in sixth grade, I co-taught ELA, math, science and social studies. Teaching with four co-teachers leaves little time for co-planning or problem solving. Many middle schools use stronger co-teaching models where the special education counterpart teaches two subject areas or one subject and small groups, but even in those cases, co-teaching in middle school presents challenges.

What Makes a Strong Partnership?

Strong co-teachers provide seamless instruction for their students. Both teachers must come to a mutual agreement that they are equals in the classroom, and students must perceive both teachers as invaluable members of the classroom community. This can be particularly difficult for teachers who have taught alone for many years. Sometimes we don't realize how many decisions we make alone in our classroom on a daily basis. Making decisions as a team is key to a strong partnership, but it is often an adjustment for veteran teachers.

Strong co-teachers also eliminate the "mommy/daddy" issue in the beginning of the year through a series of open conversations. The "mommy/daddy" issue refers to when a student says something like ". . . but she said I could!" in order to manipulate a set of co-teachers. This happens quite often at first. Strong co-teachers do not always agree on everything, but they realize that the time for disagreement is not during class.

Finally, strong co-teachers solve problems together. In fact, that is the best part of co-teaching; you're never in it alone!

Benefits of Co-Teaching

Having two minds facilitate a classroom community allows students to connect with different personalities. Co-teaching allows more opportunities for small group and one-to-one learning, and stronger modeling during lessons. The co-planning process encourages two teachers to bounce ideas off each other in order to deliver the strongest, most creative lessons. I always enjoyed using my partnerships to model behavior and positive peer-to-peer interaction for students. When students experience their teachers working together, they understand the power of respect amongst peers.

Let's not forget the most important part: it is nice to have another adult in the room! One year, I taught with a co-teacher, a student teacher and four paraprofessionals. While things got a bit hectic at times, I loved the community we were able to develop in our class. Teaching is overwhelming, but co-teaching can provide a support system so that we can do our jobs, yet remember to have fun along the way.

Common Challenges of Co-Teaching

Co-teaching has its benefits, but be sure to understand that it has its challenges as well. The most common complaint I've heard from colleagues in co-teaching partnerships is that it is difficult to work with someone whose teaching style and philosophy differ from your own. In my own experience, success is less dependent on similar philosophies and more dependent on an open mind and willingness to compromise. If you are in a co-teaching partnership with someone who views learning and teaching differently, make sure to talk about it. Look at it as a chance to widen the scope of your practice by incorporating multiple styles into your teaching.

Another common challenge is in regards to the inequality that often forms in the classroom. Special education teachers often struggle to present themselves as equals to their students, and this becomes even more evident in the middle school setting. Elementary co-teachers share a classroom all day, but a middle school special education teacher can feel like a guest in a general education teacher's space. It is crucial to have conversations with your co-teacher surrounding these issues. Setting up the classroom with your co-teacher in September can help build a strong foundation for an equal partnership. Practicing a variety of co-teaching models also helps foster equality.

A challenge that followed me through many of my partnerships was the issue of grading. Do you grade all students together? Does the special education teacher grade all students with IEPs? Does the general education teacher truly understand the purpose and implications of an IEP? These are all important questions to ask. I have found that it works best when you discuss this issue at the beginning of the year. While more time-consuming, grading all students together as co-teachers is the most fair and consistent way to grade. Grading together allows the special education teacher to share his or her expertise in IEP goals with the general education teacher, and it allows the general education teacher to weigh in on IEP goals for his or her students.

Five Tips to Becoming a Strong Co-Teacher

  1. Say this mantra: "All students are our students."
  2. Come to planning meetings prepared (with an agenda) to maximize co-planning time.
  3. If you feel something, say something! Open communication is the key to a successful partnership.
  4. Realize that the success of your class depends on the strength of your co-teaching relationship.
  5. Use a variety of co-teaching models to help maintain equality.
"Inclusion is not a place, but instead a process." - Anonymous
Was this useful? (1)

Comments (19) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

SubstituteSue's picture

Hello everyone! I hope that some of you are still following this post, because I need some collaboration!! I am working on my master's and am (trying to) doing a teacher inquiry about co-teaching. I am focusing more on how having a framework of some sort can benefit the teachers: clarification of roles, establish equality, open communication and collaboration, teach more effectively, decrease stress and personal conflict, things along those lines.
If anyone has any feedback I would greatly appreciate it!
Thanks a bunch,

SubstituteSue's picture

I thought I would share my teacher inquiry question that I am working on as part of the master's program. What is the relationship between positive collaboration in planning and communication among co-teachers and student engagement? My goal is to see if there is a difference in student behavior in classrooms where co-teachers are in a good, positive working structure, vs, the teachers who lack well planned out roles/responsibilities or lack good collaboration/communication. I wonder this because I have seen a classroom where the co-teachers seem frazzled and stressed, the special ed teacher only focuses on the identified students, and the entire classroom environment seems distressed. On the other hand, I have seen classrooms where the positive energy from the teachers and students is evident upon entering. I think this is a good study, but I am unsure of how to collect data for it. We are not allowed to use interviews or surveys. There really is no test or quiz to give that measures this. I need to use at least 3 forms of data collection. I know I can use observations, and hopefully this weblog, but I am unsure of a third way.

Alex Shevrin's picture
Alex Shevrin
Community college teacher, former school leader, Edutopia community facilitator

Sue, you should post your inquiry and questions in a new community post and then you can get lots of opinions from others! Edutopia often promotes community posts so you might reach some more people who might be able to help. Go here:

Rosie's picture

"success is less dependent on similar philosophies and more dependent on an open mind and willingness to compromise"
What do you do when your co-teacher is close-minded and unwilling to compromise?

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct Faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

Rosie, I'm so sorry you are in this situation and more importantly I'm so sorry your students are too! Please note- these are just basic chain of command thoughts from my administration background of how to resolve a situation in a school. So first things first, are your special education students IEP's able to be met in the current conditions? Are the teachers restricting the special education students' supports you are trying to provide? Are you able to meet the IEP supports and student objectives and goals? Certainly if your SPED students are not getting what they need you should act. One option could be speaking to your supervisor (SPED Director and/orAdministrator) about the IEP students and get their advice on how to improve the situation with this team of teachers. Another option could be meeting with one of the team of teachers who you think might hear you out and see if you can get them on your side and go from there. If there is anyone else in the school that is in a similar situation with these teachers perhaps they have advice. If it isn't your SPED students that are the issue and you are just more frustrated with the non-SPED students support and achievement then your options may be more limited- unfortunately for those students. If so, it has so much to do with your school's political situation. I know this can be so frustrating when you are supposedly on a team and it doesn't sound like you are an equal team member, or even a team member. Please let us know if we can help more.

Cstehr's picture

Thank you for the post. I am currently an ASU student. We are learning about professional standards; learning communities is one of those standards. It was nice to read about the challenges and benefit of collaborative teaching from the viewpoint of a teacher who has experienced it first hand. Thank you again.

Lydia's picture

This article, and the comments are very enlightening! I have a co-teacher (this person changes every year) and we are both the "homeroom" teachers for our students. This is of course a great opportunity for collaboration, as being from different nationalities with different mother tongues and different cultural backgrounds, we have a lot to learn from one another to keep our lessons creative and dynamic. I also echo Rosie's question, what if your co-teacher is not open-minded in collaboration? How can you best align yourselves for the benefit of your students and collaborate together successfully? I had a wonderful relationship with my co-teacher last year and I would really like to ensure I have done my part in setting up for success this year insofar as limiting conflict whilst collaborating.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.