Wednesday, September 25, 2013

School Stuff - My Advice

If you know me at all in real life (or on facebook), you know that I have had nothing but constant issues with Sara's school this year.  The district was great to work with before she came home.  In my own naive little world, I assumed that everything would be fine.  After all, I'm a special education teacher.  I know how these things work.  Certainly I wouldn't have any problems.  I couldn't have been more wrong.

*I should note that the majority of the problems come from a completely incompetent teacher.  The whole district isn't bad but this teacher has  no idea what she's doing.  

I want to share some of the things I've learned.  These things may be helpful to anyone who has a child with special needs--even if you are a special education teacher with 13 years experience!  

*Learn the laws!!  Education laws change from state to state.  Even the most knowledgeable person can't know them all.  However, IDEA is a federal law and anyone can learn the basics of that.  There are also a lot of books out there about Special Education law.  A quick google search of Special Education Law and your state will produce a lot of results.  Learn as much as you can.

*Get an advocate!!  You do not have to spend money to hire a lawyer.  You don't need someone with a fancy title.  You just need someone that can go to meetings with you.  If you introduce them as a parent advocate, they will garner respect---even if they are just your next door neighbor.

I've been in more IEP meetings than I can count as a teacher.  I've sat in on some of my brothers' IEP meetings.  Sitting in one as a parent is an entirely different game.  It's intimidating.  So much is being said so quickly.  It's impossible to catch and process it all.  Bring someone with you who can take notes.  Even if that's all they do, that's ok.  Even if you have the best relationship with the school possible and your child is doing amazingly well, it's always nice to have another set of eyes and ears at a meeting.

It's helpful if your advocate does have some special education knowledge and experience.  A lot of times, a local disability support group can help you find one.  Sometimes, the school has parents who volunteer for that role.  Don't be afraid to ask!

I am blessed with many friends who are very knowledgeable in the field.  I bring a friend to meetings with me.  I introduce her as my friend Sharon.  I let them draw their own conclusions.

*Ask questions.  I have learned over the years that asking questions can get you a lot farther than direct confrontation.  I use this in a lot of areas of my life.

If you don't understand why something is being done with your child or what the rationale is for something, just ask.  Sara was coming home with homework packets from Kindergarten that were way over her head.  My assumption was that this is what she is working on at school and I didn't understand why she was working on Kindergarten skills when she didn't have all the readiness skills yet.  So, I asked in the meeting yesterday what the rationale was for that.  I was told that due to state regulations and Common Core, Kindergarten age students need to be exposed to Kindergarten concepts.  While I still don't really agree with it, I understand now the rationale and legalities behind it.  Rather than start a fight or get into a confrontation, I asked.  She answered.  I understood.

*Sweat the little things.   If there are things going on that you don't like or don't approve of, bring them up before all the little things turn into a big thing.  I spent the first several weeks of the school year assuming that things were going to get better.  It felt like each day something small was going wrong or not being done.  I didn't want to nitpick so I didn't bring it up.  By the time someone did ask me why I was so frustrated, I had a long laundry list of things.  I wish now that I'd brought things up one at a time and not waiting until it was a multiple page email.  I've had parents do that to me and I didn't appreciate it.  As a teacher, you can't fix things that you don't know are wrong.

*Ask for what your child needs.  Unfortunately, schools don't seem to offer services, evaluations, or accommodations, without a parent asking.  I'm not sure why that is because I know that there are good therapists, teachers, and administrators out there.  As a parent, you have to ask.  If your child doesn't speak, you should be asking for a full speech and assistive tech eval.  If your child has sensory or fine motor issues, you need to ask for a complete OT evaluation and services.  I just found out this week that the school will take care of Sara's hearing testing because she failed the test at school.  (I sure wish I'd known that before I paid $45 to take her for an eval.)  As the school if they provide the service that your child needs or if they know someone that does.  Most schools will provide what you ask for.

*Understand that 99%  of the people you come in contact with love your child and want the best for them.  Yes.  There are definitely horror stories out there of mean, lazy, abusive, neglectful, or awful teachers.  They do exist.  But, the vast majority of us in the field are in it because we love the kids.  We want to see them succeed.  We want to help them reach their potential.  Like everyone else, we have off days.  We make mistakes.  There may be days that your kid comes home with some lunch on their face.  It doesn't mean we hate your child or we ignored them all day.  It just means we got really busy or we had an off day.

Even though I have no faith in Sara's teacher's ability to educate my child, I don't think she's a bad person.  I don't think she's trying to hold my child back or even that she's lazy.  I think she just has no idea how to appropriately teach my child.  I can't say anything bad about her as a person, even though I feel like her classroom is not the appropriate place for my child.

I have been in meetings where parents have insulted and degraded me as a person.  That's really not fair.  Even if you don't think that I am the best person to be teaching your child, you don't know me as a person.  I know that emotions run high when it comes to our kids.  Please try to remember that chances are that teacher is working as hard as she can to help your child--even if she's working on the wrong things or in the wrong way.  She is most likely going home exhausted from trying to help your child--even if she isn't succeeding.

I am sure that I will learn more lessons as I walk down this path.  Even writing this post has been a good reminder for me.  I am not fighting AGAINST a school district or teacher.  I am fighting FOR my child.   

What lessons have you learned that will help me (and other) navigate this crazy educational journey?  


  1. I have learned many things over the years; fortunately, I also knew a lot of the laws, etc. that apply to Sped since I worked for NY state at the Office for MR & DD (no longer called that) for many yrs. I was the " Service Coordinator" for many children and attended MANY mtgs. But, having an advocate is one of the BEST things you can do - even if they are just there to witness the mtg. Then it's not YOUR word against THEIRS'. If you can possibly have the father attend (I know this isn't possible for all), they seem to sit up and take notice. But, if Sped is new to you, try to find someone that knows more than you!
    Meet the teacher in person - not just thru the notebook. You'll find that knowing each other helps with communication - you're not just writing to some name. Make friends with the SW if there is one in the school -she can be a big help.
    I think you addressed most of the concerns - and I'm sure you''ll find more as you go along. I think you are doing a FANTASTIC job.
    Love, Mom/Nana

  2. This is really good to know! We are working toward adopting SN kids, but even outside of that scenario, these social skills are good. The idea of being for, not against, covers every strong relationship. Thanks for taking the time to write this out.