When I Became 'That Mom' I Once Dreaded as a Special Education Teacher
After four years of college and with passion flowing through my veins, I felt ready to begin my career as a special education teacher. I had the pedagogy down. Writing measurable goals and objectives was like second nature to me. There was no accommodation I couldn’t make nor a modification I couldn’t plan for. Stepping into my new career as a first-year special education teacher, I was confident in my preparation for anything the job threw at me. As it turns out, I was prepared for just about anything, but nothing could have prepared me for “that mom.”
If you are reading this as a seasoned special educator, you likely are very familiar with “that mom.” You may be counting your blessings that you did not get “that mom” this year or you may be cursing your misfortune if you did. You may already be preparing for the possibility of getting “that mom” next year or still recovering from having her last year. For those of you studying special education or very new to the field who don’t know about “that mom,” this is a good time to learn.
“That mom” is the parent of one of your students who nags you with constant emails, seemingly wanting to know about every aspect of the day. She may have the audacity to come to the IEP meeting with her own goals written or an advocate. She is the mom who questions many of the decisions you make as a teacher and even tries to give suggestions. Her IEP meeting will likely run over the scheduled time and you may debate using a sick day to avoid it. The principal will likely be on a first name basis with her, and at times you may feel that no one really supports you in your battle with “that mom.” To sum it up, she is utterly unbearable.
Throughout my career, I have encountered “that mom” many times. I would wear a smile but keep my guard. I would hold myself up in confidence at the IEP table while my knees shook underneath. I would end the year feeling thankful to be done with her and have high hopes that the next school year would come with some reprieve.
As my children were born, I slowly became a bit more understanding of “that mom” — albeit still hopeful to avoid one. In my 10th year of teaching, my son was diagnosed with autism at 2.5 years old As we prepared for his transition from early intervention to public preschool services, I often reminded myself to not become “that mom.” I tried. I really tried. Three pages of amendment requests and two meetings later, including one with school supervisors, his first IEP was developed and he was sent off to preschool in the hands of strangers and the special education system.
I can’t pinpoint when the change happened that year; I am not sure if it was gradual or sudden, but one day I woke up and it was clear I met all the requirements. I was “that mom.” Frequent emails, check. Suggestions for goals, check. Emails to the principals, check. Questioning instructional decisions, check. I wondered how I could possibly be “that mom” as even though I met the requirements, I was simply trying to do what was best for my son.
I was only ensuring that everyone who worked with him fully understood his needs. I was just making sure I wasn’t missing anything that he could not communicate to me. My email about what happened at the assembly wasn’t to be a bother, just to have something to talk to him about at dinner when he couldn’t speak. That time I brought pages of notes to the IEP meeting wasn’t to add more work to their plate, only to keep my son safe and be sure his needs were met. Questioning the purpose of the math activity wasn’t to demean your decisions, but to help me understand the expectations so that I could best help him. My suggestions were not to assume you didn’t know how to handle him, but because I know him so well.
As I reflected on “those moms” of the past and my current membership in their club, my inner Grinch was summoned. Maybe, I thought, “that mom” shouldn’t come with a bad connotation. Maybe “that mom” . . . perhaps . . . needs some admiration!
Looking at “that mom” through a different lens, it became clear to see so many traits that are desirable, traits we actively work to teach our students to embody. “That mom” has strength, advocates for others, is always seeking information and using questioning to further understand. “That mom” shouldn’t be someone we dread but someone we embrace. We should feel lucky to have “that mom” for a year as she can help us best support our student, she can encourage us to evaluate our practices, and she can help remind us of things that otherwise could get lost on our full plates.
Being a special education teacher is a very rewarding, challenging, and tiring role. However, from being on both sides of the IEP table, I can tell you that being a mom of a child with a disability is even more rewarding, challenging and tiring. I challenge all special education teachers to reframe their thinking when it comes to “that mom.” With all that moms of children with disabilities have on their plates, let’s appreciate the time and dedication they must give to be “that mom.”
To “those moms” of my past, I am sorry. I didn’t understand your intentions. I wasn’t aware of how your child’s education and even life depended on you being “that mom.” I may have rolled my eyes after meetings with you, wished you moved out of the district, and forewarned my colleagues about you. I am sorry.
To my fellow mothers who fit the description of “that mom,” including myself, keep doing hard things. Never stop advocating for your child. Understand that you may not be understood but nonetheless, persist. Share your truth and your child’s truth. Embrace your role as “that mom.” To the future mothers of children with disabilities, I am ready for you. I am here for you. I am with you. I am you.