Friday, October 13, 2006

10 Things I wish every Special Education Teacher Knew

If some rare breath of magic came along and blew open the doors to communication, and I could lay aside the silent fear of educational retribution against my children, I'd have so many things to tell my son's teachers.

1) First, I'd say that I truly believe that we are both good, hard-working and well-meaning people. I'd promise you that we want the both want the same thing--for my struggling child to make educational progress.

We have more in common than you might think. We are both working towards the goal of helping my child acheive "measurable educational benefit" within the framework of woefully under-funded legislation, known as the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, rev. 2004).

Because that legislation remains under-funded by our lawmakers, you and I are forced to work towards an identical goal, but from opposing sides. Because you are too often not given the funds with which to implement my child's IEP, I am forced to seek advocates and lawyers should I disagree with those services my child does receive.

2) I'd remind you of how our roles in my child's education differ. Your job with my child is retroactive. You are charged with implementing the goals as set forth in my child's individual education plan. (IEP)

My job is proactive. I had to both anticipate the goals that came to you with my child, and I had to I had to push hard to provide you with sufficient resources and related services to help my child meet those goals.

By the time my child ever gets to you, I am probably already exhausted from the long and bumpy ride that brought him to your care.

Where you struggle to address the varying needs of many students every day, our lawmakers have made it my job to advocate for the needs of one student--my child. Very often, bitter struggles have ensued before you ever entered my child's life.

The law has handed me a lousy and often lonely place to advocate from. But that law provide me with the only foothold I've got to help me open the doors of knowledge a little wider for my child.

I do hope that I remember to be respectful during those inevitable panic attacks that arise every time I look at the numbered days of my child's educational life ticking by. I ask that you would show me the same respect when you react to my inevitable concerns.

2) When I disagree with you, I want you to know that it doesn't mean I'm angry with you. It means I'm frustrated. My concerns do not mean that I think you're incompetent. It means that I feel my child's individual needs aren't being met successfully.

Please know that during those inevitable moments when I lash out at you, it doesn't mean I don't like you. It simply means that I'm feeling the same frustration that you do.

It makes me sad to say that the laws written to insure my child a free and appropriate public education have left it up to me insure that you will have the resources and funds made available to you so that you may, in turn, educate my child appropriately. Sometimes, I have to put up an ugly fight when the district which employs you does not give you what you need to do your job.

3)Living with a contentious relationship is exhausting. I don't like being the watchdog anymore than you like having me be one. I didn't make you the first person in line in the hierchy of whom I must address when I have concerns about my child's educational progress.

Your school district did.

When I come to you with an educational concern, I am coming to you within the parameters of proper procedure. Next to me, you know my child better than anyone else sitting at the IEP table. I need you there to give the team an honest and informed appraisal of my child's struggles. I need your honest suggestions of what you feel my child needs in order to progress. In order to get you there, I have to tell you that something isn't working. I'm very sorry that procedure so often divides us.

4) I wish you would remember to tell me something good about my child everyday, no matter how miniscule that something might be. I hear plenty of bad news. Often, a rare glimpse at the good things is all that gets me out of bed in the mornings.

On the flip side, I recognize that I must remember to tell you when my child does something wonderful at home that reflects your ongoing efforts on his behalf. As a parent, perhaps I don't do that enough. I wish that in spite of the inevitable struggles, we could agree to do this for each other at least once a week.

5) Please don't say anything around my child that you don't want him to repeat back to me. Even if he's nonverbal. You'd be amazed how many children report that they understood, and remembered, much of what was said around them long before they could indicate that they comprehended our words.

6) Presume every student's intellect. Assume that my child possesses intelligence even in the apparent absence of higher functioning. Remember, twenty years ago we presumed all persons with CP were unable to comprehend general academics.

Augmented communications has done much to prove how very sadly misplaced that assumption was. There is absolutely no harm in reading an age-appropriate story now and again to a child you think has no way of understanding the words. If nothing else, your time and attention will show him how much he is valued. His behavior may just improve as a result of knowing you care about the child within while you strive to work with the measurable limitations of the child before you.

7) If my child is having a bad day, please stop for a moment and put yourself in his shoes. Somedays, I find myself having to do this myself.

At quitting time, you can walk away from the struggles my child brings to your class.

Those struggles and frustrations are with my child for a lifetime. Stop for a moment and just imagine the sometimes unbearable enormity of living with his challenges. Forever.

8) We are a team. Please do let me know how I can help you transfer skills my that child my child learned at school to his home and community environments. Urge your District to invite me to trainings and inservices that might help me better help my child learn. If I don't know that Johnny is tolerating hair brushing at school, then I won't know to hold him accountable for those skills at home. Help me to help you help my child.

9) Acknowledge that I am sometimes the prevailing expert on my child. If I say "it's not working", I'm not saying so to just to be difficult. I'm saying this to help you understand that the approaches we thought might work aren't working. Even though the goals your preferred approach address are still a very valid ones, sometimes a mother's insight is priceless at backing into those goals from another direction.

I have known this child since the day he was born. I will live with him, his successes, and his failures, long after your job is done.

10) Consider meeting me in a goal that we can both get behind and advocate for.

Before you ever met my child, I have likely engaged in years spent advocating for him. I have yelled, screamed, written to lawmakers, and filed complaint after complaint to help you help my child within an unfunded piece of legislation. Its sad, but its true.

You tell me you want to help. Consider uniting with special ed parents, and jointly lobby for the full funding of IDEA.

Until then, our educational system will either continue to deny critical services, or go broke in trying to award them. An unfunded IDEA works only to insure that parent/educator relationships will remain contentious, and that the children of families who choose to litigate will win the best services.

The prevailing system is all about survival of the fittest parent adovcate.

Nobody wins.

Children lose.

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