Local Charter Employs Teach For America Corps to Provide Co-Taught Classrooms

By Queen Muse
|  Monday, Dec 16, 2013  |  Updated 12:09 PM EDT
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Co-Teach Concept Boosts Classroom Success

Queen Muse

Maxwell Tartar leads his class in a discussion about language and point-of-view.

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It’s a little after 8 a.m. at People for People Charter School (PFPCS) in North Philadelphia. Teacher Maxwell Tartar has just begun his lesson on language and point-of-view. While the classroom full of somewhat groggy 7th grade students listens attentively to Tartar’s lesson, a student blurts out a random comment. In one silent motion, a second teacher, Vance Lewis walks over to the disruptive student and quietly discusses his behavior. The disturbance is calmed so quickly that none of the other students react to it, and Tartar is able to continue his lesson without a flinch.

This is a picture of a co-taught classroom. According to the National Education Association, co-teaching is a decades-old school system practice of having two teachers in one classroom. One teacher is typically a subject specialist, and the other is usually an English Language Learner (ELL), special-education, or other remediation specialist that serves students with disabilities through Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

Due to dwindling funding resources in the city, PFPCS is one of only a few schools that have been able to take advantage of the beneficial teaching method. PFPCS spokesman Arlene Barochin says that is in part thanks to the abundance of Teach For America (TFA) Corp members on its staff.

"Over the past two years, PFPCS administration has worked to ensure students who require additional academic support receive classroom based interventions and modifications based upon their learning needs. By doing so, students in these classes experience a smaller teacher-student ratio and are able to receive the individualized support they require to make academic gains," Barochin said.

"TFA Corps members greatly add to PFPCS' capacity to provide a variety of course offerings at PFPCS. In addition to current corps members, PFPCS is also home to 11 TFA alumni and veteran teachers who provide additional teaching capacity to meet the needs of the students."

A recent study by the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities found that the co-teaching method has benefits for teachers, and for students, both with and without disabilities.

Co-teacher participants in the study said students in co-taught classrooms cooperated with one another at a greater level than students in classrooms taught using traditional teaching methods.Student participants said that when co-teachers drift around the classroom assisting whoever needs help -- like Lewis does -- they felt more attention was being paid to all students, not just the students with disabilities.If student success is any indication that the co-teaching method is beneficial, PFPCS has some bragging rights.

According to the PFPCS school performance profile, more than 95-percent and 92-percent of all PFPCS students assessed on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) demonstrated growth in math and reading, respectively. The administration believes that this is in part due to the schools’ offering of a variety of classes to meet the needs of the students, including co-taught classrooms.KIPP Philadelphia Charter Schools also uses co-teaching methods in some of its classrooms. In addition to providing inclusion homerooms that are co-taught by one general education teacher and one special education teacher, KIPP also has kindergarten and first grade classes that are co-taught by one veteran teacher and one new teacher.Though the school employs somewhat of a different co-teaching method than that of PFPCS, KIPP Philadelphia Elementary Academy's co-founder Ben Speicher cited similar benefits to students."The benefits for us are developing new teachers internally so they can be successful, both in their first year and long-term. It also allows our students to make strong academic progress because they get more attention and differentiated instruction, allowing us to meet the need of every student," Speicher said.

According to Barochin, seventh grade teachers and TFA alums Tarter and Lewis are an ideal co-teaching team. Tartar and Lewis have known each other since their grade school years, and through a series of coincidences, were assigned to teach at the same school, PFPCS, and now in the same classroom, after being accepted as corps members in the 2011 class of Teach for America.

Tarter cited the benefits of the co-teaching method for students, and of being able to teach alongside a close friend."I started the corps in 2011; I taught 7th and 8th grade English for two years at PFPCS. Last year, we began using this co-teaching model and it was an amazing experience, and I really saw a lot of positive impact for kids. They were really getting the attention they needed," Tarter said.

"Co-teaching is a model that I absolutely believe in, that supports full inclusion of students with all sorts of needs, but also to teach with someone I’m so close to, makes it all the better an experience."

According to Barochin, PFPCS has roughly 30 classrooms for students in kindergarten through eighth grade; more than half of those classes, 15-17, are co-taught.

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