To Parents Who Might Think of Special Education Teachers as ‘the Enemy’


Dear special needs parents,

You don’t know me, but you know my friends.

This is my sixth year as a special education teacher, and I taught as a general education teacher for several years before that. I have a son with special needs who has had an IEP since 2008. This role as general educator, special needs parent and special education teacher gives me a unique perspective.

Unfortunately, I have frequently come across a perception that special education teachers are the enemy. Some parents blog about how the school is refusing to give them what they want and how much they hate IEP meetings. Many decry the system and lump all of us into one bucket.

I would like to help you see why special education teachers are not the enemy.

1. The truth is, teaching special education can be hard.

2. There are legal components of this job that parallel the medical field in a way only special education attorneys fully grasp. One such example is that we have legal deadlines for completing work. We have 60 days to complete an assessment (but holidays count against us). So weekends, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President’s Day, half days for conferences and any other break (other than summer break and winter break) are included in that 60 days.

For this month, I have five less workdays to get my work done. Not to mention, if a kid has the flu for a week, I’ve lost another week within the 60 days I have to assess. I love my students, but I also like to sleep so I can be the most patient version of myself.

3. It’s the reality of time and paperwork that can put a frown on the most starry-eyed teacher. On average, since I started in special education, I have spent 15 to 20 hours a week writing IEPs, documenting notes, printing, organizing and tracking down signature pages.  This does not include planning for instruction, teaching, collaborating with teachers and administrators or emailing and calling parents.

4. I have never met a special education teacher who went into this job to annoy parents. No one would do this job for that reason. But the accusations, the lack of understanding, the amount of work — this can be why some leave the field after less than five years. I’m a veteran at this point as a result.

5. We don’t have unlimited funds for every requested accommodation and service. I have met parents who think because we are a school, we can provide anything they want. Any sort of experimental therapy, any tech tool, any specialized service provider, but money doesn’t grow on trees, and schools are no exception to that fact.

For us to justify an expense, we have to know it is research-based and has a track record for actually helping kids. We have to try the basics first because that’s what’s required of us. We also have to know the supports we recommend increase independence. I believe many of the specialized support providers do not.

I tell you this not to complain about my job, but to help you see we are on the same team. You love your child, and I became a teacher to help your child. That is why I start every IEP meeting with this:

“There is a lot of lingo in special education, and your voice is important. I want you to stop us, ask questions and know we are here because we care about your child and want him to be successful.”

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