What your child's Special Education Teacher wishes you knew….
Aug 28, 2017 | By: Ronette Parker
Becoming a teacher is usually something that has been someone's dream for a long time. And accomplishing that dream is an amazing feeling that makes you feel like you can conquer the world! I decided when I was in kindergarten that I would become a Special Education Teacher. To this day I have no idea where that dream came from other than God because my interactions with people with Special Needs was pretty limited. Because, well life happens and throws its own set of obstacles in, I didn’t accomplish my goal of getting my Severe Special Educators Credential until I was in my thirties. Having dedicated most of my life to this field has been a labor of love, to say the least for me. Many new teachers walk into their new classrooms and can just visualize how you want to change the landscape of Special Education, but don’t foresee the changes it will make in them. Through the good and not so good, there are things that I’m sure your child's Special Education Teacher wishes you knew… so I’m going to give you a peek into what our world can be like.
Your child's Special Education Teacher (or SDC teacher, Special Day Classroom) is a wealth of information for you, and what they don’t know they will usually work doggedly to find out. Sometimes too doggedly for the administration. I have heard more than a few times from friends in the field challenges they have come against while trying to help families from their administration. This can be because they have been told that if you do recommend something it may look like the district is backing them up and that’s like basically saying, “The district will pay for A, B, and C! Congrats!” That isn’t the case, changes in services and placement is always a team decision and not an individual. As teachers, we have to remember that we are still employees of the district and decide what input we give and if it’s coming from our teacher persona or as another parent. Sometimes we aren’t allowed to help as much as we would like and it can seem to parents that it’s, “them against us”. Trust me your child's teacher is working their hardest to help. But there is only so much they can do and say without being threatened with disciplinary action or dismissal (or having them feel so uncomfortable at work that they eventually quit). Unfortunately, this happens more than we’d like to think. We are the “face of Special Education”, so if there are problems we are the first person who gets an earful. Even if it’s not us they are upset with.
Having paraprofessionals in Special Education is the norm, and the teacher trains them. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the most amazing paraprofessionals around and am truly blessed. However, the random odd ball gets in sometimes and it creates an unbalance in the whole Special Ed team. If you notice something that doesn’t sit well with you in regards to your child's paraprofessional (or aide) let their case manager (9 out of 10 times it’s the teacher) know so that they can address it. I can list some nightmare situations that I’ve had to address with incompetent employees and it takes away from what our goal is there. Teachers want to teach, not manage adults who don’t know what they are doing or are not doing their jobs. If you feel your aide isn’t trained enough, talk to the teacher. They, in turn, will set up training through the administration for the aides. Aides have “work days” like teachers do and it is set aside for this very reason so don’t feel like a whistleblower. All teachers want to know, just like parents do, that their students are in the most competent hands at school.
If your teacher is new to your child, give them a chance to learn your child's particular learning style. No two people learn alike so whatever information you can give them from home, other service providers or past teachers is only going to set their relationship up with your child for success. I’ve had students who have walked into my classroom one day, totally unexpected, and have been violent. If I had been given information from others who have successfully dealt with this child and given me tips to lower the student's frustration level (therefore lowering the incidence of possible violent outbursts) I would have read everything given to me. Your child's teacher doesn’t want to frustrate your child, but if they don’t know their past then you are basically asking them to reinvent the wheel alone. Communication equals success.
Show of hands, how many people love having to repeat directions for their child over and over again? Can get a bit tedious, right? Well, in Special Education, that’s common place and you have some of the most patient people doing it (which, by the way, is what you want!). In General Education, the teachers get new students every year and a fresh new start. Special Education Teachers can teach the same students for the year. This has its pros and cons, but they are geniuses for making old, stale situations new and fresh for their students. And when we see the light bulb in their eyes shine when something we’ve been teaching clicks, oh wow! We probably celebrate harder than anyone else at the school!
Understand that your child's teacher may feel like an island in the school. I used to tell people that I was like a cop, the other teachers and administration only wanted to see me to take care of a problem no one else could take care of with a child. This usually meant a very angry or violent student that they were afraid to approach, so who does it? The Special Education Teacher. Who can get hurt? The Special Education Teacher. And we do it because it’s so painful to see a little person in so much pain and have them feel like no one understands them. We want to teach them more productive strategies to get what they want and we spend years of our lives dedicated to doing it.
Special Education has been one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever had and I continue to make it my life's work. The beauty and possibility we as Special Educators see in these students have brought me to tears at times and I am constantly in awe of everyone in this field.