A Dad in a Special Ed Classroom

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?

-JB (The Dad in the Classroom)


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About ManvDadhood

I am a man, and by my wife’s standards that makes me flawed. My challenge to parents, and to myself, is not to teach my kids about the kind of person I hope them to become one day, but to become that person today.

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  1. Mishele says:

    First, I would like to thank you for listening, bringing this to the round table and getting the dialogue open and of course your heartfelt post. You are an amazing teacher and I wish you much success as the years progress with our special needs children.

    My frustration is something I feel almost daily. My son is making the transition from the 8th to the 9th grade this year and it has been trying to say the very least. NY state has passed a law that requires EVERY student to partake in the regents program. Thus, meaning a more ‘mainstream’ curriculum and offering less help. The Resource Room is now not a place to get help with the actual issues at hand or homework questions. It’s a class that gives EXTRA work. They nail down the actual learning disability and just work on that. IE: learning disability = reading comprehension = resource room works on only this issue. Now, my son is an auditory learner so he carries that with him to every class not just English. Math Lab, you would think that was a place to go to get the extra help needed in Math. At least I did as that was the way it was explained to me. Wrong, this is also another class – one that gives homework not a class that offers the extra help needed to understand and reinforce what is actually being taught daily in the mainstream math class. In the 9th grade they also give the child the CHOICE to use their IEP modifications. What teenager is going to openly choose to use their mods in a mainstream class when on top of the LD they are just fighting to stay above water socially? I disagree with this and have voiced this concern over and over. To suffice me at the last CSE meeting they just added a blurb in the IEP that states if my child refuses to use his mods to email me. By ‘refuse’ I mean checking a little box that says ‘not using my modifications’ What good is that going to do? His mods are in place so that he sees and feels some success. Isn’t it mandatory to follow the IEP regardless of what the child says and/or checking a little box? I have been going to CSE meetings and dealing with IEP’s since the 2nd grade so I’m well aware of how these should be running. This year with the transition into the high school I find myself at a total loss and if I may, to be blunt, I feel bullied by some of the members of the committee. (If I hear one more time about budget cuts in a CSE meeting I’m going to scream) Not to mention my child feeling defeated as he is not seeing any success with his grades even after bringing home hours of homework nightly from the days classes. Any parents out there that have made the 8th to 9th grade transition and did you find yourself facing these same struggles? I’m open to any/all suggestions, ideas and past learning experiences to aide me in my support to my child so that he may once again start feeling some success. Thank you again for listening.

  2. JPRennquist says:

    I work in an early childhood program as a toymaker and home visitor and I just started a special education cohort program. One of the beleifs that I am entering this program with is that parents (and I mean parentSSS, mom, dad, foster parents, step-parents, all key parental roles) should be actively engaged in the IEP process. I also think that the kids should be involved in the process, too. But I am just starting out this program and it is possible that my views will change as I begin to see how complicated these dynamics are in a real world setting.

    I will share this post with my class.

    • Thank you for commenting and sharing. Those ideals that we have will not just happen. Many educators, and special educators have become jaded and cynical. Fight for your ideals, and take steps to make them a practical part of your new venture. Good luck to you in what you’re doing.

  3. JB, thanks for tweeting this article to me. I’d love to get in touch with the parent that originally asked for help. These IEPs can be brutal (this, coming from a former educator and present mom of a child with special needs). It can seem like a foreign language. And if you have a district that (you feel) is not giving you the full story, it can seem hopeless. This is why I’m very vocal about the help of advocates. I don’t know what I’d do without my advocate. She’s wonderful.

    • JB says:

      Thank you for commenting. The parent this post refers to is Mishele, who commented above.

  4. DaddyBriefs says:

    I am now a supervisor working for the state of AZ where we provide services to those with developmental disabilities. My wife is a special education teacher with experience from pre-k through 12th grade. I think one of the biggest frustrations, as professionals, is lack of support in the home. All to often, parents rely on others to teach/provide services for their children. We as professionals can poor our hearts out and give all the services we can to promote the child’s growth, but it doesn’t do much good if the parents don’t want to put in the same effort. In short, many of today’s parents want to be spoon fed the supports and rely too heavily on the professionals involved. As professionals in this field, we are forced to work with what we have and make the best/most of the situation.

  5. You bring up a good point… parents are beginning to rely on us professionals as much as they (sometimes) get their kids to rely too much on medications… but that’s a topic for another post.

This is what I think...