Are you really a co-teacher or just a glorified aid

Jan 12, 2013 by

Are you really a co-teacher or just a glorified aid

ATTN:  Now please understand I don’t mean to ruffle anyones feathers with this article.  I know there are a lot of therapists who don’t agree with my position.  If you have a co-teaching model or push-in therapy model that really works for your student, not for you, your schedule, your high numbers or your administration, please share it in the comments section.  Please share not only your model but how the model evolved and your caseload.  I base my perspective on my experiences and those who have shared their experiences with me.  

The past 10 years or so there has been a big push for therapists to use a co-teaching or push-in model.  I have no clue where this idea came from and I don’t feel like doing the research.  I honestly think one morning someone (who does not work directly with kids) woke up and said wouldn’t it be great if the speech therapists saw their students in the classroom.

On the surface that sounds like a great idea.  You have a speech language pathologist come into the classroom, imagine what they could offer.  An actually if it was a true co-teaching model where the speech language pathologist worked in tandem with a classroom teacher, they planned together, delivered lessons together and evaluated the students together, that could be great.  What has happened, is that therapists are being asked to provide in-class services, either planning a class activity for that time or just going in and hoping they can somehow integrate themselves into the class for that one half hour a week.  On paper that too is called co-teaching (apparently co-teaching on paper looks good to the powers that be).  Oh did I forget to mention that in some situations therapists are expected to do this in every single classroom.

The problem I have always had with therapists as co teachers is that we are usually told “just do it” without any regard for the student’s needs, a lack of understanding of our level of expertise, a lack of respect for what we can realistically offer, a lack of co-planning time, scheduling constraints, teachers that aren’t willing to coordinate, no planned way to measure effectiveness and no training.  I have never felt that I have been able to offer my language disabled students the level “therapy” they need in the classroom setting.  Never have I worked in a organized co-teaching model.

There have been times when the teachers not only ignored me in the classroom but ignored the fact that I am there to work with or at the very least observe particular students.  With that said there have also been some wonderful teachers who will switch thing up a little when they see me come in to accommodate my limited time.  Even with accommodating teachers, without sufficient planning and evaluation time, a therapist going into a classroom is usually no more than a glorified aid.  Being a glorified aid makes my job very easy.  There have been times when I have only had one or two direct or indirect interactions with my student during my 30-45 minutes in the classroom.  That hardly gives me time to address or observe my goals and objectives.

I don’t really think the disconnect is so much between the teachers and the therapists, most  of us are willing to learn new methods, if they’re effective.  I believe the problem lies between the administration/school board and their lack of understanding about how schools work, special education and how children learn.  It somehow sounds better if a school says they use a co-teaching model.  Most people don’t understand how loosely that term is used.

Here is a link to 6 different types of co-teaching models. Take a look at it and see where the services at your school fall.  I can’t cite the author because there isn’t one.  Another site claims 5 co-teaching models  I guess my point is even people who feel strongly about co-teaching haven’t decided the best way to go.  Again no author cited.

I was a huge fan of co-teaching when it was first introduced 20 some years ago.  However, most schools have never been able to put in the time, energy or resources necessary to make it work.  So my observations conclude that kids often miss out on valuable “therapy” time, when services are delivered within the classroom setting.  That’s not to say that when they are ready to integrate newly learned skills that they can’t benefit from some services provided within the classroom setting.  (then we get into scheduling issues so lets not go there).

Speech language pathologists really need to look at their overall effectiveness within the classroom setting.  Are the student’s need being met?  That’s the key question.   If your answer to this is “no” then congratulations, you’ve become a glorified aid.


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  1. Lori

    Thank you for this post. I totally agree with everything you said, but often feel that it is the “politically incorrect” thing to say. To really co-teach it takes a tremendous amount of planning. I have co-taught in special education classrooms and that has been effective because most of the students are on my caseload and they are all functioning at similar levels. However, when I go in the regular classroom, most of the students already have the skills that I need to teach to my students. I worry that I’m wasting the general ed students’ instructional time and that I’m watering down my instruction to the severely language impaired students who need very targeted instruction and lots of opportunities to respond. If they could learn in the large classroom, they wouldn’t be needing specially designed instruction. Another option is to see my students in a group at the back of the classroom, but most of my classrooms during small group instruction are way too distracting and noisy. And my final argument is that I teach language strategies, not specific curriculum content. Although I try to use classroom topics, grade-level standards and will help with verbal presentation, in general that is just the material behind what I’m teaching. If I’m concerned that the student needs to complete a specific assignment, I often end up spending too little time on the language strategies and more time on task completion. I’m sure there are settings where push-in works, but I agree that in my school I haven’t found it to be effective. Thanks for bringing up this issue!

    • Teresa Sadowski MA/SLP-ccc

      Thank you for taking the time to respond to my article. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m also glad to know there are other therapists out there that feel the same way. I think schools just don’t understand out role and the skills we bring to the table.

      • Sabina Gyory, M.A., C.C.C.-Sp.

        I’ve been an SLP since 1979, and your experience matches mine totally. And I’ve tried everything!

        • Teresa Sadowski MA/SLP-ccc

          Thank you for taking the time to comment. I started school in 79, have changed a lot since then. What I find most interesting is that our roles have grown significantly in schools and we do a lot more with language, our caseloads have grown to include many more typical learning disabled students, our caseloads have grown in number….I could go on and on. We use a clinical model in schools but are also expected to push in with classroom services, yet there is still only one SLP in most buildings if that. I think our professional group, unions in some cases and ourselves have let us down for not advocating stronger for increased service providers. Caseloads of over 30 or 40 kids is just unreasonable and impossible to service.

  2. Angie

    Thank you both! You express my frustrations very well. I have been made to feel like I didn’t know what I was doing, because I didn’t know what to do in the classroom. I have researched, asked others, and “winged” it, but to little avail. I feel demoralized as a glorified aid. I AM NOT a TEACHER, much less highly qualified. I have a different background and a different knowledge base than teachers. Would I ask one to a teacher to come in and help me with therapy, or co-treat? I think not.

    • Mindi

      It’s about time someone has come forward and expressed the challenges with a “push-in” model. Thank you Teresa.
      I “push-in” to a small academic skills group setting and one reading class in my Middle school three times a week and possibly more this coming school year. I too have been told by administrators to “push-in” more vs.the traditional pull-out therapy model to address specific goals. I have found that the teachers I push-in with are very supportive, and welcome me with open arms, but like Angie stated, I feel like I’m “winging” the session because I speak to the special education teacher 10 minutes before to find out what the group is working on and have little time to prepare. In addition, I am not a content area teacher. Although I follow the core curriculum the best I can and the teachers do provide me (a short time before the class) with a study guide, it is very difficult to work on therapy directed goals when I have no planning time with the team. In addition, no one mentioned that how do you take data under these circumstances?
      The positive aspect of “push-in” is that I get to see my students in a classroom setting and what their overall strengths and weaknesses are in the classroom.
      Fortunately; it is my choice as to whose class I push-in to, but I’m seeing that administrators are requiring this model to be done more and more due to time constraints, not the student’s needs. Because of my large caseload, testing schedule and meetings, I don’t feel “pushing in” is the most effective method of providing the support language impaired students.

      • Teresa Sadowski MA/SLP-ccc

        Hi Mindi
        I feel your pain and frustration. I actually found it harder and much less productive to push in at the middle school level. At least you have a supportive team. My own theory is that therapists go along with push in because it is easier….no planning, little interaction with the kids you target. By middle school their language needs are pretty well defined, how many examples of figurative language can you give in the classroom setting. The fact is administrators are not sure of our role and how the skills we target effect learning. I am currently putting together administrative guidelines for SLP role and staffing. However, we do so much it really is difficult organize.
        Speech language pathology is based on a medical (as are all learning disabilities), that doesn’t sit well with the new guidelines. Administrators somehow think if we are in the classroom we can effect academic change with our disabled students. It is actually very concerning that so many administrators are not aware of the developmental process in typical much less disable students.
        Thanks for taking the time to respond to my post. I’ve been in education for almost 30 years and I have seen this in class thing cycle around every so many years. There is hope.


  3. Michelle

    I am a Speech Pathologist from Australia. I have had a broad range of experiences for over 20 years and am now specifically working in education. I have been searching the net to find out “how to work in classrooms” as I feel I lack the necessary skills. I had some idea this had been done for years, but it seems my concerns are also those of you. It is nice to not feel alone!

    I think that those speech pathologists who are speech pathology and teacher trained do have the necessary skills. They also need a decent amount of time in that school and need to be part of the team. I am lucky if I can visit a school once a fortnight, so have kept clear of working in the classroom. I think “speech” work can only be done on an individual level. Unfortunately, the caseload does not allow the speech pathologist to provide a clinical service so support staff implement programs. I see this as far from best practise. In terms of language disorder, again a program can be provided to support staff to implement and a discussion had with teaching staff, but this seems far from best practise. I have a desire to provide language therapy relevant to the curriculum but am not sure of the best way to go about this with the limited resources available.


    • Teresa Sadowski MA/SLP-ccc

      Hi Michelle
      Thank you for taking the time to comment on The School Speech Therapist on this issue. Deep down I do believe that a speech language pathologist could and would add a wonderful skill set to a classroom. I believe that any missing underlying language skills could be targeted in a true co-teaching model. That’s not to say that some intensive direct services should always be omitted either.
      To make a co-teaching model work it has to be a true co-teaching model with adequate planning and collaboration time. If schools want to do this on a full time basis or just limited by subject, that’s fine but they have to give the teacher and SLP time in the summer to plan the curriculum and then time during the year to plan implementing the curriculum. The other thing that never happens, is follow up or review of the co-teaching model to see if it has been effective. In all my years, I’ve never had that conversation with any teacher or administrator. Most schools just want to say they have a co-teaching model on paper and are not concerned about the details or effectiveness.
      At this point here in the USA the big drive is to implement “common core curriculum” Some States and districts are asking their SLP’s to align their goals with that curriculum. I am not sure if this is going to lead to more classroom intervention or elimination of SLP services. I’m not thrilled with any of it and frankly it doesn’t make sense to me. Core curriculum is lowering the standards for American children and missing the reinforcement of many needed developmental language skills. States are starting to wield their independence around implementation of core curriculum, this too shall probably pass as most reforms do.
      There is a school, called Landmark, in this area the works with learning disabled students only. Their SLP’s actually teach underlying language skills as a class. I believe it is called Oral Language class or something like that. The school has a pretty good reputation around here and I am really trying to learn more about their methods because it seems like a very good model.
      I would really like to hear more about how therapy is provided in schools in Australia. If you have a chance please e-mail me with that information. at

  4. Dayna

    Collaboration and the push in model of teaching can work if the school and classroom that you are working in is set up for that model. I have now worked in a California school district and a district in the NYC department of education. It is so interesting to see how it can and can not work. In California I did both push in and the pull out model. The push in model worked best for:
    – The moderate severe students where every student in the class had speech therapy on their IEP’s. I provided the push in model during the class center times and the students rotated to my speech center for 15 minute sessions. I also co taught with the teacher during Friday cooking class (simple cooking that was more life skills such as cream cheese and crackers, pizza, cutting up fruit, peanut butter and celery). The teacher sat with me (was not a prep) and taught the main lesson. I focused on the communication part of the lesson. For example, I went over the vocabulary (spoon, knife, cracker), I worked on requesting wants and needs, sequencing the steps of the activity, and social skills. The kids were so motivated and it was always a great group activity with lots of talking and interacting (verbally and with devices).
    – The other way I provided a push in model was with a general education first grade class where I had 4 students with similar IEP goals. I collaborated with the teacher and found out ahead of time what story they would be reading during shared reading time. I pulled the 4 students out of the classroom for a 30 minute session where I read the story and worked on retells, wh questions, describing characters and events, etc). The second 30 minute session of the week consisted of me pushing in to the classroom. I provided the lesson to the whole class but had a focus on the 4 students. The 4 students already knew the story, were prepared with the questions, and had already practiced using sentences to respond to questions. I found that these kids that normally don’t understand what is going on during shared were now participating and practicing their skills in the classroom. The teacher sat with me for this lesson.
    Note that I was unable to do this for students that were not grouped together in the same classes.

    Now for NYC- What a mess!! This model is not working at all. The expectation is for me to push in but there is no time to plan ahead of time with the teachers. I also find that the mandates are very different in NY. I have mostly kinder students with autism on my caseload. Many of the students have 5 days a week with 1:1 therapy for push in. That doesn’t work at all!! The mandates are written so that I could not provide a group lesson where I am getting in more than one kid at a time. In other words, I would have to teach the class lessons for the entire day in order for it to work (which that would not work either). Instead I am told to push in for whatever activity they are working on. This is where the glorified aid comes in!! I do not think they are getting the best therapy and would not want my own child to receive that kind of therapy. It’s definitely easy therapy with hardly any planning but it is not in the best interest for the child.

    The push in model doesn’t work unless you are pushing in to a language based activity and where there is collaboration with the teacher. I’ve seen where the push in model works great and I’ve seen where it completely flops. It all depends on how the mandates and IEP’s are set up depending on the district. It’s a great idea but needs to be set up properly for it to work. NYC needs lots of tweaking and changes in order for this to work but I know that it can because I’ve done it before. However, it will take time for it to be set up where it can be done properly. Unfortunately the kids are the ones that it will hurt the most. I’m trying to work with my school to make it better. Currently I am doing both push in for some kids and pull out for others. I think it works best when there is a combination of the two models and less specific mandates.

  5. Brian

    🙂 There really are others out there. I assumed I was alone among my colleagues, as the most vocal sort have been strong supporters of pushing-in. Teresa, it feels like you and the other commenters have plucked my thoughts on the matter directly from my noodle. Especially Angie and Lori. Yes! Yes! I AM NOT A TEACHER! I remediate speech and language disorders. I don’t outline plan of care based upon arbitrary standards that some bureaucrat located more than 500 miles from my school site came up with. My job is to target each student’s goal(s). My job is NOT to be an instructional aid to help support the teaching of the curriculum. My students make progress. This progress is observable and measurable. It’s working. Administrators and many teachers really do not quite understand what an SLP is. The thing is, you explicit tell them what our roles are, what our duties are, what our training is in and how we work with students to remediate disorders, AND THEY STILL DO NOT GET IT! I’m serious. I’ve been at an in-services for school staff related to exactly explaining those roles and responsibilities for SLPs. It was all for not. Frankly, they didn’t care. The SLP was the person you send Johnny to when he needs “fixing.” Johnny’s your problem now.

    Now of course I have worked at school sites that did get it and did care, but they were the exception. I feel like most staff, even those in their 20s, are just biding their time until retirement and going through the motions. I’ve worked collaboratively with a few general ed. teachers who were great and welcoming (usually kindergarten teachers). Many of the teachers didn’t want me in there. I know I’m coming off as negative right now, because I am being negative. Believe it or not, when I have pushed into the classrooms, I do so with a very positive attitude and a great big smile on my face. I got the impression they didn’t want me in there because I would be observing what they were doing in the classroom, or I was cramping their style. Then you have the clueless administrator in the IEP meeting stating what level of speech services are to be recommended without consulting with me prior. “Oh, I absolutely think 1 time a week speech therapy is reasonable to address (newly brought up concern).” There is no goal to address newly brought up concern and goals drive services. “Can’t you just write a goal now?” Goals require a baseline. We have no baseline. We have no baseline because this concern was brought up 3 minutes ago. No I cannot write a goal write now. “Oh.” That was an actual exchange I had with a school principal during an IEP meeting for a freakin’ high profile student.

    The one classroom I have had consistent success pushing into, as others have commented, is the SDC classroom. Most the the functional skills students are on my caseload. The functional skills curriculum ties into my goals. I can work with them during vocational activities and other naturalized contexts to support their communication. In terms of scheduling, I can go in and work with 10+ students over the course of 3,4 or 5 hours that day and it is an efficient use of my time. For my students that are in gen. ed. classes (at the high school), pushing in would be a massively inefficient use of my time. They have 6 classes. Many times there are only 1 or 2 students in the classroom that receive speech services. Great, so now how the heck am I supposed to see the 60 other students I am supposed to provide services to? Not to mention, if the teacher is giving a lecture, the students are required to be silent and take notes. Not exactly the best environment to target the student’s spoken language or articulation goals. I can get 300+ production of the /r/ sound in a pull out model. How many productions can I get when that student is sitting in class taking notes?

    The funny thing is, the method I prefer to use actually has evidence that it works! The literature says it works. Systematic reviews and meta-analysis says it works! I mean, don’t we want to use what works?

    Okay, so I’m done ranting. I’ll go back to sitting in my windowless closet, I mean office.

    • Teresa Sadowski MA/SLP-ccc

      Everyone needs a good rant once in awhile. If you read my blog you’ll know I rant a lot. The past few years I’ve been working on turning my rants into something more productive. I wrote a book for administrators on the role of th SLP in public schools. I just got very tired of consultants coming into schools and telling us our job, then don’t even get me started on the common core impact. One consultant was insisting on 100% inclusion and the school bought into it. I actually thought the consultants goal was to eliminate SLPs. Anyway the only good thing coming out of the glorified assistant position is that I have no planning or notes to write up. As busy as we are that is a selfish position to take but it is hard to fight when there is usually only one SLP in a building. No one is asking the school psychs to change the way we have. Not to mention all our tests are based on development not standards made up by who knows who. OMG now you have me ranting:) Please check out my book if you get a chance and pass it along to your administrators.

      Thanks so much for looking at my blog and taking the time to comment

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