To My Child's Mainstream Classroom Teacher, From a Special Needs Mom
Two weeks ago I was invited to do a short presentation to a hall full of educators about my experience as a parent moving from a special needs school to a mainstream school. This got me thinking of just how anxious changing schools can be. But what overwhelmed me even more was the fact that entering the mainstream school meant that I would have to go over the same things every year as we move to the next grade and a new teacher and new classroom dynamics!
So, I thought, after my presentation, to write this blog for referral, for any teachers who may be welcoming a child with special needs into their classroom. This letter is specific to my experience, and with it being our second year in mainstream, I can assure you I felt as anxious and overwhelmed this year as I did the first year my son Kai joined the mainstream school!
Dear mainstream classroom teacher,
I left this cocoon where all our needs were coordinated. A cocoon where I was trained in the complex art of developing parental skills to help my child thrive.
A class of six to eight children, speech, OT and audiology. An observation room where I could sit, watch, and learn more about my son as he participated in classroom discussions and interacted with his peers. An observation room where I could learn from the manner in which his teacher helped him develop his auditory and language skills. Weekly learner plan and goals we received every Friday, giving us time over the weekend to familiarize ourselves with the lesson sketch for the week ahead.
Then the news: my child is ready for mainstream school.
Imagine the anxiety of boldly stepping out into the big wide world, the uncertainty of whether my child would cope in a classroom of 30, the acoustics, accommodations and additional support. How inclusive is inclusive?
My role suddenly changed from being the “student” to becoming the “team leader.”
- Where do I begin?
- How do I duplicate this team approach outside of this special needs school?
- Will you, his teacher, be approachable?
- Will you be prepared to check that the hearing aids are working?
- How will the school acoustics impact the listening environment?
- Will my child be made to feel “different”?
- How do I maintain a balance between homework, ongoing OT and speech sessions, and weekly language goals?
- How do I incorporate it all?
- How do I help my child to develop self-advocacy skills without drawing unnecessary attention to him?
- Can I cope without overwhelming myself or my son?
- Most importantly, how do I encourage a team approach?
- Will the new therapists understand our situation and our goals, and be on board to work as an interdependent team?
- How do I facilitate a smooth transition?
- How do I minimize listening fatigue and people overload?
Feeling overwhelmed would be an epic understatement!
Suddenly I need to lead and coordinate my own team — a team of professionals, each based at their own private practices outside the school environment. It feels to me like climbing Mount Everest without a guide. I find my way and hope and pray you will be prepared to hold our hands and travel this new journey with us — a journey with many detours along the way as we re-evaluate what works and what doesn’t.
I am anxious and fragile when we enter the mainstream school. Not only do I need to develop and maintain relationships with you, but I also need to maintain and develop relationships with new team members (speech/OT/audiology) and keep everyone informed. Then, just as we become accustomed to it all, the process of adapting starts all over again when we are introduced to our new teacher for the new school year.
I do not expect of you to be my son’s only educator. Our home should be an extension of your classroom, so please provide me with weekly objectives and goals.
While you may be worried about his reading level, I’ve been spending the past six months helping him to remember the phonetics of the alphabet. Learning what each letter sounds like, and mastering the ch, th and sh sounds.
While you may be worried about his inability to count in threes and fours, I’ve spent the last four months focusing on teaching him the meaning of difference and equal in the language of math… all this with the help of our speech and language therapist.
While you may be concerned about the fact that he may be “trying too hard” in class, know that it takes effort to listen, process, retain and do… all this while the space around him may be annoying him. Know that sometimes he experiences meltdowns and overload after school.
Mainstream classroom teacher, I thought I’d share this letter with you because there is so much more that goes into educating and developing my child than the five hours he spends with you at school.
I want you to know that I do not expect you to facilitate a one-on-one teaching approach. I appreciate that the other 29 students are equally entitled to as much support as my child.
All I ask is that you understand his special needs in the classroom and be open to his communication tools. From time to time, I may request a meeting with you to provide some feedback or to discuss his progress or challenges in the classroom or at home.
I ask for your compassion and support. Please understand that you are my mainstream guide, my person on the inside.
Most importantly, do not lower your expectations for my child. He is very capable. Do not see his challenges with sensory processing and hearing as a limitation on his ability. See it as an opportunity to embrace difference, an opportunity to learn something new, an opportunity to develop a diversely different approach to educating a child, an approach, that in the end, will benefit the other 29 peers in his class.
Dearest mainstream classroom teacher, welcome to our team! Together we learn, together we grow.
Follow this journey on Chev’s Life.
Image via Thinkstock Images