I’m on a lot of e-mail lists for special education, parenting and education support for autism, lists about Individual Education Plans (IEPs), newsletters about literacy… the list goes on. What breaks my heart so much is when I read e-mails from parents who are struggling with their child(ren)’s school districts about the services that their child(ren) should be receiving according to his/her IEP, but somehow something gets lost in translation, lost in the shuffle, and ultimately, the child gets lost in the bureaucratic nightmare.
I can’t count the number of e-mails I’ve read where parents ask “What are my rights?”, “What do I do when x doesn’t do y and it’s supposed to do be done?”, and the one that really broke my heart, “What do I do when I hear staff making negative comments about the special education kids right in front of them?”. These e-mails span the United States- in small cities and in large urban areas. The common factor is the parents’ frustration in the lack of communication and services for their special needs child.
Then, I see the other side of the fence. I’m a trained teacher, and I know how hard it is to be a teacher, not just a regular education teacher, but also a special education teacher (I used to teach English as a Second Language, and I’m currently in graduate school to get my certification to be a special education teacher). I know the hours of preparation that regular education teachers get in their content areas, but when it comes to special education, guess how much preparation regular education teachers get?
You’re lucky if you get maybe 1 three credit hour class that is like what I call the “Crash Course to Disabilities 101”: Students get an overall view of the different disabilities and get a small sampling of accommodations to use with the various special needs children. This is not acceptable in my opinion.
First and foremost- all of our special needs children are “regular education” children. It doesn’t matter what “label” you put on a child; he/she is still a child that in the “regular education” setting for most of the day. The regular education teachers need more training/education/experience to be able to successfully educate our special needs children. The techniques and accommodations that are used for special education students work with ALL students; it’s just good teaching practice.
Second, parents and teachers need to learn how to collaborate. Nothing gets done when people go in with their own hidden agendas, planning to start a battle, or no one is willing to see the other’s side of view. All parties need to remember that the child is the most important piece of the puzzle. I don’t want to hear whining about “We don’t have the budget for that” from schools, or “The school just won’t listen to us” from parents. You have to work with each other; stop playing the “us” versus “them” game.
Teachers- look at things from the parents’ point of view. If your child was disabled, what would you want for your child?
Parents- look at things from the teachers’ point of view. Your child is in a class with other children- what can the teacher do to help your child succeed? I’m not saying that you have to do the teacher’s job. I’m saying that you need to work together. The parent is the child’s first teacher. When the teachers work together, the child wins every time.
It’s painful to hear so many parents struggle to get their child the services they deserve under the law. If people collaborated instead of battling, more good would be done for everyone.