"The walls, the walls are coming down
The here and now is coming round"
This year I will be the general education teacher in a CTT ("collaborative team teaching") classroom. In the CTT model, there are two teachers in a classroom, one a special ed teacher and one a general ed teacher. 60% of the students are general ed, and 40% have IEPs ("individualized education plans" for students with special needs -- IEPs outline a student's struggles, modifications and specific goals for progress in the year ahead). CTT classrooms are a good fit for students who need more support than SETTS (pull-out special ed services) but can function in a less restricted environment than a "self-contained" special education classroom (also known as a 12:1:1 because there is one teacher and one para-professional to every twelve students).
When I interviewed at my new school and the principal asked me whether I'd be interested in a CTT classroom, I immediately said yes. I had so many frustrating experiences last year with William and Julio, who needed IEP services but weren't getting them; I wanted the experience of being in a classroom where students who needed a modified curriculum were getting the services they deserved. And I was also interested in the experience of team teaching. As my new principal explained, "CTT is like a marriage, and I've set up a lot of blind dates."
Co-teaching will definitely be a new adventure. My new co-teacher and I have spent a significant amount of time together this week, setting up our room and planning for the first few days. One thing our principal warned us about our class is that we've got a number of strong personalities (something I'm used to by now!) and that we'll need to be highly structured in our expectations of behavior and get ourselves on the same page so that we can be consistent. There are so many things that go into classroom management that I've never had to agree upon with another teacher: What signal will we use to get our class silent and attentive? When is it okay to get out of your seat, or to ask permission to go to the bathroom? I have to admit, at one point, our endless discussions started to wear me down; when you're in a classroom by yourself, you get to make all the executive decisions and be done with it. I'm also experiencing a little bit of culture shock, moving to a new school; when we were discussing what the consequences should be for inappropriate behavior, my co-teacher suggested "removal from the group." Apparently it's common to send a student to another classroom, or banish someone from the meeting area--both totally verboten at my former school. (Which isn't to say that we didn't do it, but I preferred the gentler terminology of "giving someone a break" from the crowded meeting area or distracting classroom, because making a student sit apart was basically considered akin to corporal punishment.)
When I went for my interview at my new school, I could tell my principal was pleasantly invested in making sure that my co-teacher (who had already been hired) and I would make a good team. Apparently many people interviewed for the position, which tells me that he didn't hire just anybody to throw together, and he noted that we have similar styles. He also wanted us to meet each other first before he officially hired me. (I remember sending her silent messages of "Please like me! Please help me get hired!") I can see why he thought we would be a good fit; we're both analytical and detail-oriented. Unfortunately, sometimes we seem to be oriented to different details: In the past few days, my co-teacher (henceforth known as Ms. Halpert) has been focused on planning our curriculum, while my priority has been to get our room set up and in order
for the first day. Which is probably natural considering that I'm entering my fourth year and this is her first; I can teach those first few management mini-lessons in my sleep (you know, "writers think of ideas for personal narratives by sketching a memory," "readers prepare for reader's workshop by setting goals for themselves," blah blah blah), while she may not have ever considered that our students will need to practice pushing in their chairs over and over and over again on the first day of school. She starts a lot of her sentences with "I'm worried that..." but has at least given me permission to tell her to calm down.
So slowly but surely, we nailed down our routines and expectations. We'll ring a bell for attention, but we won't clap. No one may go to the bathroom when we're meeting at the carpet, but you don't need to ask permission to get up to get another pencil or piece of paper. And there will be no boys' line and girls' line -- because when I taped down lines on the floor to mark the beginning of each line, my new principal gently asked me to rethink it; there was a girl at the school who identified as a boy, and the principal preferred not to delineate gender specifics. "I want especially the girls to know that they're people, too, not just 'girls,'" he said.
Inside, I cheered. And I slowly began to think outside the box my former school built around me. We could do a "Question of the Day" as part of our new morning routine! We could build choice time into our Friday afternoon schedule! We could let our students have more than two minutes to pack up at the end of the day! "Here, no one will tell you how to do anything," noted a veteran teacher down the hall. And that is an idea I can get married to.