Building a relationship takes time as well as tons of effort. Being intentional about building a relationship is important. Mindfully going into co-teaching will benefit both teachers and the students. Some people are not naturally comfortable with having another person in their classroom, so easing into co-teaching may be necessary.
To begin with, meet ahead of the year and get to know as much as possible about one another. In my experience, there have been teachers who are more open to sharing and others who are less. That's okay! As long as your co-teacher knows you care and you are interested, that's a start.
Learn about what your co-teacher expects in the classroom as far as student rules are concerned. If you are the specialty teacher, then the classroom rules are ultimately up to the classroom teacher. Be sure to respect them and support them too. Similarly to parenting, students will try to play the two of you against each other. :) but if you are on the same page and work as a team, you will be more successful. For example, if the classroom teacher has a rule that students can sit where they want, but cannot change seats throughout the day, then you need to know that and reinforce it.
As a co-teacher, I used to visit multiple rooms in one day. Each teacher had her own system for allowing students to take a restroom break. It was my job to get to know that system for each class, remember it, and reinforce it. It may seem insignificant, but it's actually a big deal. Routines and keeping structure in tact are important. As co-teachers we have to be supportive and work as a team.
When there are two teachers in the classroom, it can be a beautiful thing. It lowers the teacher/student ratio and kids tend to learn more and quicker. However, this only happens in rooms where the two teachers understand what their respective roles are. Who is doing what and when? This takes some preparation time and an upfront understanding among one another.
For example, I used to go into a classroom for a very short period of time each day. Before I started going in, I met with the teacher and we looked at her schedule. During this 15 minute block of time when I would visit her room, she was in the middle of reading workshop. We decided together that this would be a great time for me to confer one-on-one with a few students each day. I would grab the conferring notebook, decide who needed a one-on-one conference and do it! I usually did several each day. While I conferred with students, the classroom teacher pulled small groups. It was a highly effective way of utilizing a co-teacher for a 15 minute block of time. Rather than walking in and just assisting students willy-nilly, we had a targeted instructional plan for the short block of co-teach time.
The key here is the co-teachers should plan together. I realize this is asking a lot. Many specialty teachers are spread very thin and their schedules don't allow for planning with the classroom teacher. Sometimes you have to get real creative with the schedule to find time to plan. But it's worth it! When you plan (at least long range or short range planning), you know in advance what the kids will be learning and you can begin preparing and accommodating. You can start to pull resources to use in the classroom. You can search for instructional strategies to give the classroom teacher. Discussing specific needs and accommodations while planning is priceless.
Talk with administrators at your campus and advocate for a sacred planning period with your co-teacher. At one school where I worked, we did short range planning once each grading period and the principal blocked out 1/2 a day for us. During that time, our classrooms were covered either by art, music, PE teachers (anyone who could help-really). And teachers who worked with that grade level were able to plan together. Priceless time. What we didn't get done during that time, we finished through electronic means (google drive, email, etc).
There are 6 Co-Teach Approaches identified by Dr. Marilyn Friend, guru of Co-teaching. It’s critical that both teachers know and understand the approaches in order to be able to plan to use them in instruction. Click here to learn more.
It may take extra effort, but the bottom line is that if we aren't increasing instructional intensity, then we are wasting both time and money (I'm sure I heard this somewhere before). We have to do what's best for students.