I Am Solely Responsible

Sharon Arkell, an experienced special education teacher, finds herself assigned to co-teach with another experienced teacher who refuses to relinquish any control in the classroom. The only suggestion offered to Sharon is "Be patient and don’t rock the boat".


Sharon Arkell, a special educator, had been teaching in the same community of about 35,000 residents for 12 years. This year, her school district adopted a pro-inclusion policy and provided a two-day workshop for all teachers on inclusion and the collaborative teaching model. After completing the workshop, Sharon’s first assignment was to work with Betty, a fifth-grade teacher at her school. Betty had been teaching for 15 years and had received several teaching awards. She ran a very structured classroom and had high expectations for her students. She was known to wear a notebook around her neck the first three weeks of school, writing down kids’ names at the first infraction, so she could remember who needed to stay in from recess.

A former Title I teacher, Betty was used to having paraprofessionals in her classroom and was happy to have the extra help for students with special needs. By the end of the first week, Sharon had the impression that Betty viewed her in a similar light. Sharon felt that Betty expected her to be quiet and do what she was told. For instance, when Sharon spoke, she felt that Betty cut her off or found some reason to contradict her.

Sharon decided to talk to Betty about how she felt and asked to meet with her at the end of the day. "I wanted to talk to you about my role in the classroom," Sharon said. Betty was silent. "I have been feeling that my presence in the classroom is an annoyance to you, and I am concerned because I feel responsible for meeting the needs of the special education students within this classroom," Sharon continued.

Betty informed Sharon, in no uncertain terms, that this was her classroom. "It is fine with me that you look over the shoulders of your three students and help them keep up, but nothing else is your responsibility. It is important that the students know who the teacher is and having two adults doing the instructing will only confuse them."

"Well, I thought I was supposed to be co-teaching with you," Sharon replied.

Betty answered, "Well, for now I think it is best if I handle all of the instruction."  In the weeks that followed, Sharon tried several times to talk to Betty about her discomfort with the situation. She brought in articles about inclusion and co-teaching in an attempt to enlighten Betty. When Sharon asked if she had read any of the articles, Betty responded, "I’m not sure I can handle this new approach to teaching."

Sharon took hope in those words "not sure." She went home thinking that the ambiguity contained in those words left some room for accepting the pro-inclusion/pro-collaborative teaching model. Her hopes were dashed, however, when Betty swept into the classroom the next morning saying, "I wrote this letter last night and I’m going to read it to you right now." Betty proceeded to read the letter aloud to Sharon. It included several reasons why Sharon should not be in her classroom. Betty argued that she was solely responsible for the education of her students and needed to be in control for their sake. She had a lot of content to cover and would be held accountable for the students’ mastery of that content. She also felt that Sharon’s presence only interfered with the efficient running of her class.

"Well, Betty, perhaps I could just work with the students out in the hall to give them some more individualized attention."

Betty responded, "You don’t want them to feel different or separate from the rest of their classmates. That may embarrass them."

Sharon asked directly, "Is there any possibility of changing how things are being done?"

Betty replied point-blank, "No, it will only confuse the students."

"But, Betty, they are already confused. They are not "catching on" to what you are teaching. They have trouble following your lecture format and completing all of the worksheets you use. I think we need to modify the instructional approach for them. I just found an article that discusses ways to meet individual students’ needs by adapting things in the classroom. Cooperative learning activities, for example, are designed as activities that the whole class can take part in, but in small groups individual students’ needs can be met and students can use each others’ strengths for the group to be successful. I will bring it in," Sharon argued.

"My teaching methods have been successful for 15 years. I don’t think that is what needs to change," Betty answered.

Sharon was exasperated and decided to share her view of the situation with the principal, Mary Allen. "I have been working with Betty since the beginning of the school year, and I feel she is not allowing me to do my job. She will not consider any of my suggestions for adapting curriculum to better meet the needs of my students and second guesses any action I take."

"Yes, I know Ms. Criner can be very controlling," Mrs. Allen responded in a soothing voice. "But, because this is your first year of collaborative teaching, why don’t you just go along with her the best that you can. Maybe once you establish a relationship with her, she’ll relinquish some of her authority. She is an excellent teacher and her students always have high test scores. Don’t rock the boat and see what happens."

As Sharon walked out the door she thought, "I don’t know how long it will take to establish a relationship with Betty. I don’t even know if it is possible. What about the kids until then? Their needs aren’t being met."


Discussion/Study Questions

1.    List what you learned/know about each of the characters in the case.

2.    What do you think is motivating the thoughts/actions of each of the characters?

3.    What are the issues/problems in the case?

Additional Questions

1.    What further steps could Sharon take to resolve her difficulties regarding her role in Betty's classroom?

2.    Should Sharon follow the principal's advice and give Betty some time to adapt? Do you think Betty will                              relinquish some authority as she and Sharon establish a relationship?

3.    How can Sharon ensure that her students' needs are being met while this issue is being resolved?

4.    What do you think is Betty's perception of the situation? Is it justified?

5.    What more could have been done on a district level to facilitate the implementation of the pro-inclusion and                        collaboration policy?

6.    If the boat isn't rocked, will anything change?


CEC Competencies/Knowledge Areas Addressed In The Case 

Major Areas:

Importance and benefits of communication and collaboration which promotes interaction with students, parents, school, and community personnel.

Other Areas:

Rights and responsibilities of parents, students, teachers, and schools as they relate to individuals with exceptional learning needs.

Demands of various learning environments (e.g., individualized instruction in general education classes).


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