The other side of the desk
Special education teachers share their side with parents
By Susan L. Foret
Each year, teachers anxiously await the chance to see the faces of those children whose minds they will fill with the phenomenon of knowledge. They are also anxious to talk to their parents to discuss expectations and needs. But what do these teachers want the parents to know most of all? These teachers feel that if they could only express to the parents what they would like parents to know, perhaps their jobs, as educators, would go more smoothly, and together, as a team, a child’s educational experience may be better.
Most educators want what is best for children and want to work with parents to achieve academic success and to maximize social and behavioral accomplishments. Special education teachers face additional challenges in order to accomplish this.
They recognize each child as his or her family’s number one concern, and they understand though trying their best to meet the needs and concerns of all students and parents of students under their guidance, parents and teachers need to form partnerships to best meet the needs of students with special needs.
In talking with the teachers who sit on the opposite side of the desk, we asked them what they wanted to share with parents in order to foster a better relationship and to increase their student(s) success.
Special Education teachers choose this field to make a difference.
Many teachers choose special education because they enjoy the challenge of working with students with disabilities and appreciate the meaningful relationships they can have with those students. They have the chance to make a difference in the life of a child and a family.
Not only do these teachers have to endure additional education and licensing, they also have to have patience and understanding, the ability to motivate students to learn and creativity to apply different methods of teaching to different students. They also have to produce a substantial amount of paperwork documenting the students’ progress.
“In my experience sometimes the people who gravitate towards the field special education have a propensity to be a rescuer, care taker, martyr, worrier all for the good of others,” explained Deborah Nettles, a speech therapist in public schools for 28 years. These teachers take on more than math and basic educational information; they take on the child as a whole.
Parental involvement is important to the teacher and to the student.
Research indicates that the greater the parental involvement in a child’s education, the greater the student achievement in grades and behavior.
Marie LeBlanc, a former preschool special education teacher and mother of a special needs child, suggested that parents should ask a lot of questions because they are their child’s best advocate. “Recently I read about a mom who said that all she wants for her child when she is gone, is someone to love her child without being paid,” explained LeBlanc. “No one will love your child as good as you do, so you need to be the one looking out for their best interest.”
Leblanc suggested that parental observation in the class during different parts of the day may give the parent a more realistic view of what their child is doing every day.
“As any mom knows, our children are different people at school then at home and you always hope that they behave better at school,” explained LeBlanc. “But some children are the opposite, and maybe the parent doesn't realize that or won't believe that.” She also pointed out that some parents may not understand the process the teacher uses to teach their child, and classroom observation may help them understand better.
Working with a child’s teacher can also help remove the emotions that run high in parent/teacher relationships. By helping plan, problem solve and by giving input for the Individualized Education Plan (IEP), parents can have a hands-on approach that may be the key to academic success for their child. Each time there is an IEP meeting, you will be given the parents will receive a copy of the “Rights and Responsibilities” which gives them steps they need to take if you disagree with the decision made. A parent always has the right to refuse to sign the IEP, but they have to realize their child won't receive the services until there is an IEP in place.
Parents should work together with the teacher to determine what the goals and objectives for each child and what they can do in order to meet those goals and objectives. With an IEP in place, coupled by a cooperative effort with the teacher, a student’s true potential can be unlocked.
East Baton Rouge Parish Schools also have a parent advisory council where parents with a child receiving special education Exceptional Student Services (ESS) services can go to the quarterly meetings staffed by ESS employees and have specific questions answered or problems resolved.
“It is extremely important that the special education teacher and the parent of a special needs child work as a solid team in the best interest of the child," stated Nettles. “That solid team needs to communicate and project in clear terms an optimistic yet reasonable outcome for the child during that educational year.”
Nettles explained that in order to make the parent/teacher team a success, a positive attitude is required. All participants who attend the meeting need to leave at home any educational jargon and/or a “know it all attitudes” that “only serves to intimidate either party or stifle good clear communication.”
“Both sides need to meet in the spirit of sharing and learning information that only a good solid team can gain by working together,” said Nettles.
Promoting self-confidence and self-esteem helps the student and the teacher.
Special education teachers understand that many of their students may have lower self-esteem. Though teachers do work hard to help promote these students self-esteem and confidence levels, they cannot work alone in achieving this.
These teachers have added responsibilities and many may believe that parents should take a more active role in the spiritual, character and social/emotional education than they currently are.
Tips on promoting your child’s self-esteem
- Giving your child self-confidence and security by assuring them that you are proud and that you love them. Also spending time with your child, hugging them and making eye contact.
- Listen to your children. Find out what subjects they like and dislike, who their friends are and what they are doing before, during and after school.
Reinforcement is important at school and at home.
“Get involved with your child's education at home and at school,” suggested LeBlanc. ”Just like regular students, know what homework they have. Have them do it themselves as much as possible.”
Experts also suggest that parents be available to help with homework even if it is above a level they are comfortable with, and to be sure to find out if a child needs extra help. It is also helpful to a child’s education if they are getting proper nutrition and enough sleep.
Not all students are working toward the same goals.
Many teachers believe that the public does not understand that some of their students are working towards a high school diploma and some are not. They also encourage officials to realize the Louisiana LEAP) test is not appropriate for a child who is not working toward employment, but rather that student should be learning tasks that would make them as productive as possible and fulfilled in the future.
“One of the biggest frustrations in the job of special education for me is observing a student make the decision to remain helpless and unsuccessful in a classroom learning environment in hopes that someone will rescue him from the real learning world,” explained Nettles. “Sometimes this choice is made in order to continue a trend of enabling created by a teacher or parent, at other times the choice is made because the student finds it easier to simply sit, wait and not perform because a pattern has been firmly set that someone does indeed come along and do the work for him.”
Become educated in special education and resources.
Teachers often encourage parents to learn about the special education programs in their parish. There are many great resources, advocacy groups and guides to help parents better understand the processes, the acronyms used for support. The internet can also be a good tool to help for this research.
“The child is not taught in a vacuum,” suggested LeBlanc. “Read books about ESS, learn what rights your child is entitled to. There is an unlimited amount on information at your fingertips on the internet. Parents can also ask the teacher if they can volunteer at the school or if that is not possible, make materials at home to help your child.”