A Letter to My Son’s Special Education Teacher
Dear Special Education Teacher:
I want you to know I’m scared. While I know you have probably seen it all when it comes to your students, I am so used to people who think they have seen it all until they meet my son, Boo.
For the first time since preschool, I have not been going through the back-to-school grind. I’m not worried about school supplies or packing lunches; these things are completely provided. We bought him some new clothes that were dress-code-compliant online and they were on sale.
Not only do students arrive at your door with special needs, but I suspect most of the parents arrive at your door guarded as well. The road to get here was not easy – not easy to acquire these services and not easy to accept that my child needed them.
When the first day of school arrives, the principal introduces himself to my family by his first name. Considering the slightly passive-aggressive stance I have taken with school personnel who insist on using last names as if we aren’t equals, this stopped me dead in my tracks. My kid is not his teachers’ equal, so he will call them what he is told. But yes, I have been known to respond to emails from Ms. Last Name with a Hi First Name and insisting they call me Shannon. I have never called my boss, my CEO or anyone other than medical doctors and my own teachers as anything but by their first names.
Putting up such formal walls doesn’t make me feel like an equal partner in education. And here was this welcoming man greeting my child and telling him to call him by his first name. When I found out that all the teachers here also went by their first names, I thought it was not only charming, it was warm. It was warm for kids who have met so much iciness for their inability to control their behavior in a general education classroom.
We were allowed to take him to his classroom. This meant the world to us. I feel it should be illegal to force kindergarteners and first-graders to march down a hall by themselves and not let parents in the classroom, just on the first day. Those first few moments in a classroom at the start of the year shouldn’t be about establishing authority over young children; they should be about building trust.
I saw the warmth in your eyes, the quiet way you spoke. I don’t know if you are always so calm and peaceful. Eleven children with special needs and behavioral problems are about to enter your room and you look happy to see them.
I see you have gone all out. Not only is my child’s name on his desk, it is on the wall in a perfectly cut, laminated construction paper star. The work for each child is on the wall in carefully divided folders. For most of the students, many other things are taped to their desk, most notably their IEP goals so they can start to achieve them. There’s a corner of the room I can see my Boo will feel safe pacing when he needs to. How long did you spend tending to this room to make it more than just a great space to learn, but a space to heal as well?
I see you, and I have no idea why you are here. You could have chosen so many easier paths in life, even if you were called to make a difference. You could be teaching so-called “normal” kids right now instead of willingly taking a job in which you don’t even get to escape to a teachers’ lounge for lunch and recess because these are critical times for the social learning most of these kids need far more than reading, ’riting and ‘rithmatic – although you are expected to teach those, too, to common core standards.
When Boo arrives home that afternoon, he is so happy and proud of himself. I see he has a daily report on which you have rated his behavior every 45 minutes. You have included detailed notes, and there is a space for me to let you know if his night was positive or negative and if his morning before school was positive or negative. That evening, I receive the kindest email from you telling me how much you enjoyed him today and asking me to review the details of the behavior modification trick we have been using at home that I mentioned in passing that morning.
Thank you. Thank you for everything you did leading up to the first day of school and during this first week. Boo is already excited to see you on Monday.
Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images