One reoccurring conversation that happens in our offices revolves around a “disconnect” between children’s learning needs and teachers expectations.
I have worked in several schools and can say with clear conviction that there are many, many wonderful teachers in our public and private schools who “get” kids with learning,s ocial and emotional challenges. However, it can take just one teacher who misunderstands our child’s needs to cause undue stress and anxiety at school and at home.
So how do you effectively advocate for your child when you feel their teacher/s aren’t supporting them as they need to be?
- Assume all teachers are doing their best. The truth is, people who want to frustrate children generally don’t go through all the hoops required to be a teacher. Personally, I have not met a teacher who actively dislikes their students. When you assume your child’s teacher is doing their best, the problems feel less personal.
- Understand that education about special education and learning styles is variable across teacher training programs. Some teachers get their degrees from programs that highlight learning diversity, and others aren’t so fortunate. Again, their missteps are not personal, but more an outcome of not knowing better.
- Know that special education and accommodations are not in place to maximize your child’s performance (ie: not designed to help your child get “A”s). These services are in place to support children who have documented special learning needs that prevents them from accessing the general education curriculum independent of the specialized education.
- Understand your child’s IEP/504 plan. These legal documents that are in place to protect your child’s educational rights can be confusing. For someone not versed in the the language it can be very overwhelming. Do your research, ask for a neutral party to explain all the pieces of your child’s documents. You can’t be an effective advocate if you are misinformed about what is happening at school.
- Approach teachers with the spirit of collaboration. You know many things about your child that her teacher does not. They know things about your child in school that you do not. You both hold important information to support your child academically. Start your conversations with collaboration and problem solving in mind. Often a stressful meeting can be smoother when you say something like, “I know you care about my child’s academic progress and I appreciate that. I’m hoping we can collaborate together since we both have the same goals.”
- Like all humans, some teachers are more open to feedback than others. Some will appreciate collaborating, others will prefer to do things in their way, regardless of how it fits your child’s needs. When this happens, keep records of meetings, emails and academic grades/feedback to provide objective data of your child’s progress that can inform more formal discussions about accommodations and special education.
- Resist getting into prolonged, repeating, circular conversations about your child’s needs and progress. If you feel that he isn’t being accommodated appropriately and it is causing undue stress and anxiety for your child, move on to next steps of advocacy. This process will look different for every child, depending on their needs and current services. (We’re happy to consult with you on this process at Child Development Partners).
Teachers have a big job to do and most want what is best for all of their students. Some are aware and capable of accommodating diverse learners and some are not as adept. However, at the end of the day, the school district has a legal obligation to educate your student in a way that supports their unique learning needs. While the frustration of collaborating with teachers who don’t “get” your child can feel personal and can be upsetting, it doesn’t have to become an ongoing sore point in your relationship with the schools. By remaining calm, knowing what works for your child, collaborating and moving forward with appropriate advocacy, you can really help your child and maybe teach a teacher a bit more about kids like yours in the process.