Why Co-teach?

Shifting sands...co-teaching is becoming a more common occurrence in the schools as teachers and administrators understand the value of having two professionals share responsibility for instruction. Collaboration was thrust into the educational lexicon in the 1970’s when mainstreaming became the popular approach for integrating students with special needs into the general education classroom, forcing general and special educators to experiment with different teaming approaches. Research tended to show that students with disabilities benefitted from teachers working together to make the curriculum more accessible to all students. In more recent years, school divisions have extended collaboration and co-teaching efforts beyond the special education-general education focus to include all aspects of the school environment.

As the trend toward co-teaching has progressed in the schools, teacher education programs have also adapted collaborative approaches for effective teacher training. Teacher preparation programs recognize the advantages of shifting the student teaching experience from a traditional model that transitioned classroom control from the cooperating teacher (CT) to the student teacher (ST) to one where both the CT and the ST share responsibilities throughout the experience.

Impact of Two or More Co-teachers

The realities of today's classrooms include a focus on inclusion, evidenced-based instruction, accountability, diversity, differentiation, and continuous assessment. To meet these challenges, many teachers are collaborating for all or part of their day. When a student teacher joins the classroom of two co-teachers, we are adding yet another collaborator into the classroom mix. Where in the past, we talked about the "Power of Two" when advocating for collaboration, today we need to expand that phrase to "The Power of Two or More".

The potential for impact on students increases as CTs and STs work together.

The impact of 2 or more co-teachers on students

Advantages of Co-teaching

Cooperating teacher and student teacherMany educators who have participated in co-teaching arrangements include the following "positives" as a rationale for incorporating co-teaching into their schools:

  • Increased adult attention to students, since co-taught lessons can reduce the teacher-to-student ratio
  • Shared expertise among two or more teachers
  • Shared responsibility for instruction and management
  • Increased opportunity to differentiate for student needs
  • Greater social integration among student sub-groups
  • Demonstrated improvement in student achievement

Additional advantages are also attained when a CT co-teaches with an ST:

  • Enhanced instructional support for children in the classroom.
  • Maximized the time the ST spends "teaching" within the clinical setting.
  • Energizes classroom teachers through supportive mentoring relationships with their co-teaching STs.
  • Heightens CT's awareness of the newest instructional strategies and their impact through ongoing conversations with STs about planning and lesson implementation.
  • Offers continuous mentoring opportunities rather than only those during isolated lessons.

Challenges of Co-teaching

While educators are generally positive about co-teaching, there are some areas about which they express concerns. These tend to be related to:

  • Lack of administrative support
  • Lack of co-planning time
  • Issues of shared control
  • Differences in teaching style or management philosophy

When asked which they prefer, a traditional student teaching placement or a co-teaching situation, a group of pre-service teachers in the University of Virginia's Curry School Teacher Education program overwhelmingly indicated a preference for co-teaching. However, when questioned further they expressed concerns over being placed into a co-teaching classroom for student teaching. The chart below shows some common differences in concerns between CTs and STs.

Concerns of Cooperating Teachers
Concerns of Student Teachers
Sharing the instructional responsibilities, but being the one solely responsible for pupil outcomes. Issues of control: would they be given any control in a co-teaching setting?
Having to evaluate someone they have shared responsibility with throughout the experience. Issues around cooperating teacher dispositions toward working with a student teacher as an equal partner.
Not having enough time to plan with and support the student teacher. Having too much responsibility given to them too early.
Losing ownership of the classroom. Being marginalized by the cooperating teacher: acting only as an instructional aide rather than a teaching professional.


Concerns that students would not accept a student teacher as an equal authority in the classroom.


Losing the chance to learn from one’s own mistakes by leaning too much on the cooperating teacher.