Hello Round Table Readers. This post is coming to you from a suggestion of one of our readers (This is so you know that we are listening,and that we care). The reader is the mother of a child with Special Needs. Her concern, if I understand it correctly, is that she feels that her wishes and concerns are not being acknowledged in the IEP meetings about her child, and that the school and district is ignoring her and taking her child in a different direction than she is comfortable with. They way I understand the situation she is describing is that the school is not doing a very good job of working with her for the future success of her child.
Perspective 1 – The Dad:
My oldest is a very bright girl who is well into her Kindergarten year. She LOVES school, and LOVES learning; we do worksheets that help reinforce reading and writing and math at home, and she loves it. I worry that a teacher will not understand her as I do. I worry that her caring and sensitive nature will get cut down by classmates, or staff members. I worry that the little things that make her so special to me will go unnoticed.
Take these concerns that I have (that any parent has about their child in school) and multiply them by a parent of a child with any kind of learning, physical, mental, or social disorder. I have worked in Special Education since 2005 and I still cannot imagine what it would be like to be the parent of any child that comes into my room. I have watched as the stress of raising even a “higher-functioning” child has split up parents, or even after it has already split them up. I have watched single parents struggle, and I have seen even capable households with a look of desperation as if the end of their rope is in sight. If you are teaching Special Needs, you do not NEED to be a parent, but it helps. However, even being a parent does not begin to allow us to understand what these parents experience. As soon as we Special Educators realize this, we can better empathize with our parents and better learn to work WITH them for the future success of these children.
Perspective 2 – The Special Educator:
I believe that every child that walks in my room does not fit into a box based on their diagnoses. There are, however, “typical” behaviors or trends to watch for, but they are not the case in every situation. As soon as we forget that students with disabilities are still individuals, we forget our true mission as Special Educators. No two students are the same, and by that same logic no two children with disabilities are the same. It is not my job to push for what “I think” is the best for one of my students, and it is not my job to let the parent know about my education and experience that qualifies me more than them to make decisions about their child. What is my job, as I see it, is to bring all the people who work with any given child together and to develop and facilitate a common vision and path for each individual student. I have done things that a parent has stressed that I did not agree with, and showed the parent how it was not the best idea for their child. And in that process, let them know that their concerns and wishes are valued, but also learned something new about their child that allowed us to brainstorm together.
Merging the Two Perspectives:
I hope that I do a good job of caring for the students I work with (notice I didn’t say “teach”). I try to let their parents know that I understand the little things about their child, and that I enjoy the challenge that each student presents. I hope that the parents who meet with me understand that I am relentless, not in pushing what I think will work for the student, but is discovering what will together with the parent and the whole team. I work to have a unconditional empathy and unapologetic optimism with each student.
Is This Your Norm?
As a teacher, parent, specialist, or other Special Education Professional, what do you encounter as the largest hurdle for student success in General Education or Special Education?