Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

The first week of co-teaching was so much fun. I got to be an active participant in the value of creating a strong classroom culture from Day 1. “You were picked to be in this class for a reason,” Mr. Beasley told the students: “We are a family.” He did not just toss out these alluring words – he backed them up, and in doing so, he taught me how to do this, as well. Don’t get me wrong (I know he hates it when I sell myself short), I helped set that tone too: I let those kids know how much they meant to me. But Mr. Beasley showed me how to create a culture of mutual respect, something that a well-meaning teacher like myself might end up with the short end of the stick on: giving respect to one’s students, but unsure of how to get it in return.

Before I move on to the “collaborative” portion of my reflection, I would like to jot down some tips and tricks that I have learned this week:

  1. Shake hands: The first Morning Work direction is to “Shake Mrs. Steeley and Mr. Beasley’s hands and say Good Morning.” This is gold! We teach a firm handshake, eye contact, and approaching an authority figure during this time, but we also set the stage for the day – a student can not assume that the teacher does not know he or she is there.
  2. Get attention: If you hear me clap once; if you hear me clap twice; If you hear me say ‘yay-ya’. It turns out you don’t have to yell to get everyone’s attention, nor should you try. Apparently, the students’ brain wants to respond to these ‘games’ more than saying, “Hey guys? Hey guys, listen up! Class? Class!!”
  3. Manners: I may have cringed the first time I saw Mr. Beasley tell a student to do 5 push-ups for not saying ‘thank you’ to the person who held the door for them (always the second person in line). But oh my gosh! This immediate consequence works so well – the kids willingly correct their classmates or drop to the floor if they are at fault. They want to be better! Consequences for manners (even in the form of a correction) are always immediate.
  4. Music: I’m not sure I need to articulate this. If you know Mr. Beasley, you know that he teaches through the raps he has written about topics including the seven continents and the scientific method. These raps also include dance moves that correspond with the words. Engagement? Just a little bit!
  5. Snuggle with a Book: On Friday, we all brought in our pillows and blankets. We read our books in a dimly lit room with classical music playing in the background. Mr. Beasley and I passed out popcorn and lemonade. One student asked, “Are you guys always this cool?” I tried to smile back in a way that said, “We’ll see…” and not, “OMG! You think I’m cool? Oh man! That’s awesome!”

The above five points are a small handful of what I’ve learned and am learning from being in the classroom with a well-deserving award-winning teacher. Now I’d like to share a few points from what I’m learning about collaborative teaching. Most importantly, I recognize that we are chipping away at a sculpture. We are both learning with the mutual goal of creating something beautiful for everyone. Our “product” (which I put in quotation marks because a teacher’s work will never be complete) will take precious time to share confidently. For now, we will share the process. Here are a few questions we are working through:

  1. Organization: Beasley and I share a creative mindset and a performer’s heart. However, this does not mean that we do not want pretty piles and color coordinated bins; it just means these systems cannot come first for us. My husband once told me that before concrete paths are laid on college campuses, students are left to run freely on the grounds. After their foot patterns have been sketched into the landscape, the paths are laid to cover them. Right now, our students are roaming the proverbial campus.
  2. Planning: Fortunately, we are both going into collaborative teaching with an eagerness to learn and understand the other teacher’s duties. But we’re working on finding a system that works. For example, I want to help plan everything, but I also need to spend time making sure accommodations are fulfilled, IEPs are written, and data is collected. We need to plan in a way that honors the purpose of the collaborative classroom – to scaffold supports for all learners to contact the curriculum – while making the best use of our time and talents.
  3. Teaching: This one isn’t really a question, but a point that will continue to evolve. Who will teach what, and how? This past week, I taught math and geography while Mr. Beasley supported students around the classroom. I learned how to use a SmartBoard in front of the students, and when I didn’t know the answer to a question, I tossed it back to the class: “What do you think? Is that right? Look it up on your iPad!” (I had to giggle to myself.) I had the support and feedback of the most incredible teacher: Just like our students, I was given the opportunity to learn in a safe environment, because the truth is, if you don’t feel safe, you don’t learn. You simply cannot learn without taking risks…

We have a long list of small things we need to take care of to feel like we have all of our ducks in a row, but every teacher does. Not every teacher has an ever-present, fully invested accountability partner standing next to that list. We will check things off, and as we do, new ones will appear. For now, I will pick my chisel up, and get back at it, because this is going to be a truly valuable year.