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Special education ‘co-teaching’ gains popularity

Co-teaching is an approach using two teachers in each class that was first made popular in the 1990’s. Recently, it has resurfaced in special education.

According to the Council for Exceptional Children, interest in co-teaching is higher than ever due to the No Child Left Behind Act and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act authorizing greater access, a less restrictive environment, and highly qualified teachers.

With co-teaching, there are two teachers in each classroom. One teacher’s main concern is the general education of students and the other teacher specializes in working with students with disabilities. The general education teacher’s main focus is what information and lessons will be taught, while the special education teacher’s responsibility is how to get that information across to the students.

David Hoppey, a professor in the Department of Special Education, has mixed feelings about the co-teaching process.

“It is not always done effectively,” Hoppey said. “But, when done properly, it can really help students.”

There is no concrete data on the effectiveness of co-teaching. Most information available on co-teaching is what the concept is and what the steps are to make it effective. However, there are testimonials and reports available to the public that contain great feedback from students. More complex answers come from the teachers. Some teachers comment that they worry about the appropriateness for the non-special education students in the class.

Many factors in the classroom can affect the statistics and studies of co-teaching. The ages and schedules of the students can play a major role, as well as the teacher’s knowledge and experience in the field.

Special education major Greg Berkowitz believes that a major factor in the effectiveness of co-teaching is the chemistry between the two teachers. If the two teachers cannot work together, it will affect the classroom and learning opportunities for the students.

“I see co-teachers as radio or TV show co-hosts,” Berkowitz said. “They play off each other’s strengths and make up for each other’s weaknesses.”

The students majoring in special education at USF got an opportunity to run a summer school program for elementary and middle school students at Pepin Academy in Tampa. The college students were put into classrooms where they would be co-teaching together. Berkowitz had the opportunity to work with someone with whom he had excellent chemistry. His strength was explaining the content to the students, while his co-teacher’s strength was making it enjoyable and fun.

“The students enjoyed these games immensely and learned from them,” Berkowitz said. “I loved working with someone who had a different teaching style to bounce ideas off of.”

In Hillsborough County, about 75 to 80 percent of public schools participate in co-teaching, and that number is growing. There are many workshops available for teachers and administrators on scheduling and incorporating co-teaching into the classroom.

Sheryl Koscso works in the Department of Exceptional Student Education for Hillsborough County Public Schools and believes co-teaching can go either way.

“There are concerns for teachers who have not been properly trained for co-teaching,” she said.  “But, I think when it is implemented and done properly, there are a lot of strides for students not only academically, but socially.”



  1. Pingback: What constitutes a Special Educational Needs? « The Modern Educationalist - November 1, 2011

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