Ms. T. will be guest-blogging every other week here at GothamSchools, sharing her experience of working in a Collaborative Team Teaching classroom.

This is a year of firsts for me: my first year teaching in New York City, my first year in a Collaborative Team Teaching 5th grade classroom, my first year working to meet the New York State standards, my first year with so many major behavior issues in one classroom.

I come from the Midwest with one year of 5th grade teaching experience under my belt. My experience with team teaching hasn’t always been the most pleasant and took place under the supervision of college professors during teacher interning semesters. Coming into the CTT classroom, I was a bit nervous to share my class with another teacher, whom I’d met only momentarily before we were hired for the job and with whom I only spent a couple days preparing for the start of the school year.

Turns out, Ms. B, my team teaching partner, and I are a perfect match for a CTT room. We share similar theories for teaching and have similar views and feelings on our classroom environment and student learning. We also work especially hard to work together as a team, which means planning together and teaching together, something not as common in other CTT rooms in our school.

Our class consists of nine general education students, with a wide variety of academic levels (some as low as our students with IEPs), and ten students with IEPs (some of whom we’re not even sure why they have IEPs, because we’ve yet to receive all their paperwork). Anyone who knows the intended mix of a CTT classroom will see that the ratio is a bit off. It is supposed to be 60% general education and 40% special education, but our class is more than 50% special ed. It seems like the only way they would fix the ratio is to add more general education students to our classroom, creating even more work for us, and I’m sure it will happen as the year goes on. For now, we’re satisfied with the students in our classroom (most days) and the size of our group.

I am completely new to the CTT classroom, as it is not found in any of the schools I’ve previously been involved in (through my teaching, interning, and substitute teaching experiences in six different midwestern school districts). As I learn more about the CTT classroom through my own classroom experiences, researching, and discussions with others, I wonder why some of the students in my classroom have been placed in this setting. We have a wide range of academic levels, some as low as 2nd grade and some higher than 5th grade. The differentiation and accommodations we must make for academic learning are enough to keep both of us very busy in our planning and teaching.

Yet this is not what takes up most of our time. Instead, it’s behavior issues. Many of our students need extra attention throughout the day. At least five of our students need one-on-one support to be successful learners and keep the classroom a successful learning environment for other students. We try. We just can’t be everywhere at once. There are only two of us and five of them plus all of our other students.

It worries me what the CTT classroom does for my students without behavior or academic disabilities. To keep the classroom a learning environment, we must focus a large amount of attention on these five particular students. Yet, I wonder about the other students. They are learning, but are they learning to their highest potential? How much are the behavior problems caused by a handful of students detracting from everyone’s learning?