Back to Basics with Co-Teaching: Methods and Conflicts

Whitney ChoateBlog, Connect Better, Lesson Plan Better, Manage Better


  • Models of co-teaching include station teaching, parallel teaching, alternative teaching, and team teaching.
  • Conflicts may arise with co-teaching, so seek guidance from your administration when needed.

Methods of Co-Teaching

There are many models of co-teaching. Co-teachers need to find the best methods that work for them. The least effective models are One Teach/One Observe and One Teach/One Assist, which tend to be the most commonly practiced models. Station Teaching, Parallel Teaching, Alternative Teaching, and Team Teaching can increase co-teaching effectiveness by up to 33%. This does not mean that you never use the observe or assist models, but these should not be your primary approaches within the co-teaching classroom.

Station Teaching, Parallel Teaching, Alternative Teaching, and Team Teaching can increase co-teaching effectiveness by up to 33%. Click To Tweet

Station Teaching

In this model, teachers break down the class into small groups. A teacher is at each group with the option to have more groups do independent work. This allows the teachers to break down the material and have a closer eye on how the students do with the content. This method also allows teachers to give their presentations some closer attention. For example, if the lesson is on Geography, these smaller groups can give the teacher a chance to really connect with their students and show them more intricate diagrams or maps. By using an online map maker (perhaps show map or a similar website) the students can look at a map more closely during a presentation, rather than struggle in a large group to understand what can be quite a complicated image for some. This strategy is best used when there is complex but not hierarchical content, or when there is a lot to review. These stations could be spread out over a few days depending on the time allotted to your class.

I always stress that stations aren’t just for the littles. My general education co-teacher and I successfully used station teaching in junior-level English with high success. My co-teacher and I were able to get a better feel of who was really struggling and who was just off-task. This strategy helped the students stay engaged for a longer period of time. It also helped us give students the feedback they needed in a more timely manner.

Parallel Teaching

Parallel teaching can be very similar and even have overlap with station teaching. In this approach, teachers are teaching the same content at the same time in smaller groups, but there is no switching of groups or teachers. Again, the feedback was immediate to the students.

Engagement levels increased, and not just for students with learning difficulties. This strategy can be used for activities such as drill and practice, re-teaching, and test review.

Alternative Teaching

In alternative teaching, one teacher takes the majority of the students while the second teacher works with a smaller group of students. This could be to reteach content or to break it down in a different way. Many times, this is just naturally done in the classroom, especially if we had many students absent and needed to get them caught up. This could also be used for modifying the content if some students are doing something slightly different then the rest of the class.

Sometimes, my general education co-teacher and I would even make a group of ELL students when they were working on their own, separate curriculum. This is most effective at the elementary level but still has value when used appropriately at the secondary level.

Team Teaching

Team teaching can be one of the most complex teaching methods. However, it is highly effective if there is a good rapport between the teachers. Comfort and compatibility must be at a high level. Think of this model of co-teaching as having “one brain but two bodies” or “tag-team” teaching since instruction from both teachers is happening at the same time.

If you are in a new co-teaching marriage, this will be something you will have to work on together. It took a year for me to get comfortable with my general education co-teacher and not feel like I was interrupting “her” lesson. Once the balance and norm are set, this can be one of the most rewarding and effective types of teaching.

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Conflicts and Issues with Co-Teaching

As there are numerous benefits to co-teaching, there are also some common issues that arise. There are not always easy solutions to these issues. Scheduling co-teaching time or hours can be difficult along with having a common planning time between teachers. One special education teacher could be working in multiple classrooms with multiple general education co-teachers or vice versa. This leads to there being a lot each teacher’s plate.

With the lack of buy-in or collaborative time, teachers may struggle to find the best strategies for teaching together. With this partnership, it could be a forced relationship that may have reluctance from one or both teachers. Finally, many schools struggle with the appropriate ratio of general education students to students with disabilities in a co-taught classroom. For any issue that may arise, work with your administrators to come to an appropriate solution.

Friend, M. (2011). Successful Co-Teaching Strategies: Increasing the Effectiveness of Your Inclusive Program (Grades 1-12) (Resource Handbook). Bellevue, WA: Bureau of Education & Research.


Whitney Choate is currently in her ninth year as a secondary special education teacher and is also an instructional technology specialist at Cape Central High School in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Learning and Behavioral Disorders and a Master’s degree in Autism. She has a passion for teaching and mentoring learners of all ages. Whitney is also the co-host of the Tough Talk with Teachers Podcast.