My home phone rang the other day right before my kids got home from school. For those of you who do not know what I mean by “home phone,” it’s that thing that plugs into a wall and has the # symbol that cannot hashtag anything. When the home phone rings, I typically keep doing whatever I am doing unless I am feeling a bit of whimsy to torment the telemarketer likely on the other end. The only other time it rings is when someone at the school does not know to call my cell — which often then strikes fear in my heart. So I picked up.
“Mrs. K?” Gulp. It was my son’s new science teacher calling to say, “First of all…let me tell you I think he is hilarious. He made this cartoon strip…” He then went on to disclose all the other things drenched in awesomeness while I was waiting for the “Second of all…” part. That part never came. He called me to tell me I had a cool kid. And that was it.
I am already too experienced with the school system to be naïve. That same morning I had to send an email to kindly remind another teacher to carefully review my son’s IEP as there were some important things not being followed. Coincidence to hear from the science teacher the same day? Probably not. I am guessing he may have just been reminded that he had a kid in his fourth-period class who has an IEP. Maybe not, but then again, doe-eyed naiveté does not work as well with crow’s feet.
Unfortunately, what struck me most about this amazing phone call is that in the three years that my younger son — my very speech impaired child — has been in public school, I have never once received a phone call from a regular ed teacher just to tell me about his day in their class. And let me be clear about two things: 1) My son tries to tell me about his day. Every day. And we cannot understand him without context, and 2) I have asked for communication. Over and over. Every year. In front of other people. To almost no avail.
So teachers, this advice is completely free of charge. The key to keeping us special ed parents at bay.
1. Contact us.
Before school even starts, call to introduce yourself and ask about our kid. Give us your contact information. Assure us you are the extra eyes and ears for a kid who has no voice.
2. Don’t assume the intervention specialist is just telling us everything.
My severely learning disabled child has a whole 30–60 minutes a day of direct time with intervention specialist, as required by his IEP in our high-end, award-winning district. The paraprofessionals who are with him most of the day are not permitted to communicate with me directly due to their classified employee status. We often get second hand info from our intervention specialist that sounds something like “had a great time in music class learning new songs.”
The small tidbits we do get, well, that’s all. That’s all we get to know. The nuances are never there for us, if he has made a new friend, if someone hurt his feelings, if he thought something was cool or interesting. And those things are definitely happening in my child’s world. No matter how hard he may try to share those things with me, if I have no context, I simply will not know what he is telling me let alone what questions to ask.
The paras also are not allowed to attend IEP meetings, even at my request. Were you aware of any of that? My younger son’s intervention specialist has 10 kids who can’t tell their parents anything about their day. She is all of their voices, and she is trying very hard to be all-knowing. But why? This is a team approach. While you do have 25 kids in your classroom, if you are lucky and they have parents who actually ask them about their day, their kids can tell them. You have so much you can tell us, and I guarantee all of us want to know.
3. Invite us in.
To volunteer, to be a fly on the wall, to talk about our kids to your class. Did you know that neither you nor any of his other caregivers during the day are allowed to divulge any information regarding our child’s diagnoses to the other children due to HIPAA? And there are so many questions from children, aren’t there? If you have an inclusive classroom, the information a parent can provide the children can be invaluable to the inclusive environment. If a parent expresses interest in this but is uncomfortable, offer to include the intervention specialist to help them.
4. Recognize we understand you are busy.
We are not out to get you or have a “gotcha” moment. I cannot imagine being a teacher right now. Huge class sizes, jobs dependent upon test scores that are dependent on more than just your ability to teach, differentiated instruction, outliers flying under the radar, helicopter parents, uninvolved parents. But a 10-minute phone call once a month to tell us something we wouldn’t know without your call? If you do that once a month without fail, you will likely never hear from us. But your principal will almost definitely hear from us: to hear how awesome you are.
5. Inclusion and integration are different.
This doesn’t mean you let them have a desk like all the other kids or have peers help them hang up their backpack. I’m talking about if you take a picture of the kids to put on a bulletin board, you ensure that our children’s photos are good, just like every other kid in the class. If you are reading to the class and you ask a question the other kids can answer, figure out a way to ask a question that could include our kids’ ability to answer. While you have kids who can fall through the cracks, ours have absolutely no way to climb out of those deep crevices without you. I am sure that like us, you don’t want them just to be a warm body at another desk. Ask their intervention specialist for strategies — that is why they are there.
6. Bonus! (Also at No Charge): The Most Difficult Parents Are Likely Your Biggest Allies.
Yep. We are the wave-makers, the getter-doners. We figure out what you want and need, and we try to get it for you, especially if it will benefit our kids. Sometimes you don’t even need to tell us what that is. We figure it out. Assume nothing regarding our motivations.
For those of you who went into regular education vs. special education, those days are long gone. Inclusion is not just the responsibility of your intervention specialists. Our parenting voyage started out in the exact same place as all the other parents in your room. Just because our travels veered off years ago, the desire to know about our child’s day is just the same as if we continued down a more familiar path. Your role with our child is the only link we have to knowing the things other parents take for granted.