What Parents of Kids With Disabilities Want All New Teachers to Know
When my daughter, who has Down syndrome, was in first grade, her special education teacher left in the middle of the school year. I was relieved, as I had significant concerns about this particular teacher. Her position was filled with a young teacher who had just graduated with her special education degree. She left after that school year. In second grade, my daughter had a new teacher, also a brand new special education graduate. In third grade she had yet another new teacher who had just graduated with a special education degree. Her general education teacher was in her second year of teaching.
My middle daughter, who has cerebral palsy, has an IEP but has not needed a special education teacher. In second grade, she had a teacher who was on her second year of teaching. This teacher, though a lovely individual, made some choices that were puzzling to me. For example, she assigned my daughter a locker located at the end of a hallway different from the hallway where her classroom was located. Because of this incident, we added locker location to her IEP. There were several other situations where it was clear to me this teacher often “forgot” my daughter had a disability. She was quick to rectify her mistakes, but I often scratched my head wondering why she did not see how certain arrangements created more barriers for my daughter.
But the one thing I appreciated about all these young teachers was their willingness. Their willingness to try whatever I threw their way. Their willingness to use material I brought to them because I was using it at home. Their willingness to adapt.
I believe these new teachers graduate full of dreams of what teaching can be like. And I believe they graduate hoping to work as a “team” with their students’ parents.
As a parent, I want new teachers to know I am on their side. I want to help keep their dreams as grandiose as possible, and I want them to keep believing they can make a difference in the lives of their students. There is a reason they chose to be teachers, and I am so incredible grateful for all the young people choosing this worthy profession.
Teachers, I am on your side!
We reached out to our Mighty parents and asked them, “What would you want a new special education or regular education teacher to know about teaching your child with a disability? What advice would you give new teachers?”
These were their responses:
1. “Every child is different. Just because you prefer to use one technique over another doesn’t mean that is the best fit for the child. You must be a master of many techniques. Communication involves much more than verbal. My child may not speak, but she has very distinct mannerisms, uses gestures and has emotions. If you see something you are unsure of, please know I would rather you call me than guess or let something important get passed up or missed.” — Jessica G.
2. “Just because my child with a behavioral disorder looks like all of the other kids and doesn’t necessarily have behaviors at school, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Dyslexia is a thing, and there are specific modifications for it. I wish they learned more about dyslexia in school, I’ve had several teachers tell me they knew what it was but not the details.” — Shanna L.
4. “Parents are your best resource. They have a Ph.D. in their specific child. Most of us don’t mind getting called. In fact, the more communication, the better. Do not change their schedules. Honor their IEP. It’s not just a piece of paper. A lot of work went into creating a list of the most important objectives for that child. Most importantly, realize that behavior is communication. A ‘bad’ behavior is trying to tell you something is very wrong in their world. He or she is a child first. They want the same things all children do: love, friendship, encouragement, inclusion. Also, own up to your mistakes. You will make them, and I respect teachers who apologize. We realize as parents that we are high maintenance, but we’re trusting you with, in my case, functionally nonverbal children. Understand when I advocate for my child, even if that is uncomfortable for you, it’s because of love. When we accept or don’t accept something [it’s because] we love our children. In my case, I’m his voice. I take that very seriously.” — Tabetha B.
5. “Parents really do know their child, and sometimes stepping out of the box is best for the child and not following the norm can be OK.” — Dodi N.
6. “They need to be kind and understanding no matter the situation. I am both a ‘special needs’ mom and a teacher’s aid. I know to treat all children with respect and understanding.” — Stevens J.
7. “As a teacher and a mom of two kiddos with unique differences in speech and autism, I highly encourage listening, observing and communicating with respect, patience and empathy. Why? Because they each deserve it, need it and it’s your job. Believing in these kiddos and showing enthusiasm for learning is key! Building confidence and differentiating your approach makes a world of difference.” — Patti S.
8. “My child’s teacher is actually brand new this year. The one thing I wish she listened to me most about is communication! I find out a lot that isn’t communicated to me, and it’s upsetting.” — Erica T.
9. “Just because our children act ‘weird’ (different) doesn’t mean it’s OK to let other kids bully them.” — Stevens J.
10. “Parents are a big part of the puzzle, too.” — Allison B.
11. “[Some] children with disabilities are either completely nonverbal or generally struggle with oral communication (like ours: one has a trach and the other only says a handfull of small words). Therefore, a lot of parents appreciate detailed stories or well written notes about how the kid’s day went, what they did, how their behavior was or what made them happy or sad because oftentimes it’s a challenge for our children to communicate these things to us themselves.” — Christa H.
12. “Please hold my child to the highest standard and know who he is beyond his diagnosis.” — Deidre R.
13. “My child is an individual.” — Sarah D.
To all the new teachers graduating this spring… we are rooting for you!
Getty image by Weedezign