A Letter to the Teachers

Dear Teachers,  

I am the parent that you’ve heard about before you ever met my child.  I am the nervous pit in your stomach when you open your email, the punch line of your jokes in the faculty room, and the reason you drink so much wine on Friday night.  

I do not enjoy being the hardest part of your week, but you need to know I did not ask for this.  I would do ANYTHING to be just like the other parents.  However, I’m not, and it’s important you understand why.  

Sincerely,

The Red Flag Parent

teacher

 

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Innovation and The Least Restrictive Environment

As a parent of a special needs child, I want nothing more than my child to be included in the general education population which allows him to experience school WITH his peers; however, equally important is the need for him to receive an appropriate education that allows him to learn and be assessed in a way that works best for him and his learning disabilities.

As a teacher, I know achieving both can often be difficult, as balancing the unique needs of one’s learning is often counterintuitive to being included in the general ed classroom.

So…how do parents and teachers balance the unique needs of their student’s learning with their desire to be included?

This conflict has been the Achilles heel of Special Education and is referred to as achieving the Least Restrictive Environment. IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975) states that students with disabilities should have the opportunity to be educated with non-disabled peers to the greatest extent appropriate which is referred to as creating the Least Restrictive Environment.  Traditionally, creating the Least Restrictive Environment has been a challenge for teachers and the IEP team because creating the necessary personalized educational experience for a Special Education student often required leaving the regular education classroom. However, the explosion of educational technology coupled with innovation in teaching has made achieving the Least Restrictive Environment easier to achieve than ever.

Drawing on my experience as a mom of a high maintenance special needs son (dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, ADHD, and anxiety) and my experience as a high school English Inclusion teacher, I have created a list of the top 5 ways parents and teachers can work together to create the highly coveted Least Restrictive Environment.

#1) CHROMEBOOKS:  Yes…it HAS to be a chromebook.  

Here’s why:

  • These magical devices are created by Google which means they innately use Chrome as their browser which is intuitively linked to all of the educational apps, add-ons, and extensions that have been made to run on Chrome.
  • They don’t get viruses and update automatically. This means you can’t accidentally click on something and ruin your device. Furthermore, you won’t have to hand in your device to the school’s IT people every few months to run updates.  
  • It has a price tag of under $200 which is totally school and family budget friendly.
  • It is durable enough for children, specifically special education students who may not have the best decision-making skills, to use without fear of it breaking.  Seriously, these things are made to last. I actually witnessed my three-year-old pour an entire glass of milk onto the keyboard of our family Chromebook, and with some creative use of gravity for draining purposes, it still worked!   
  • Most importantly it plays nice with other devices, apps, add-ons, and extensions.  Apple products, like iPads and MacBooks, and Windows-based PC’s, while they can do some really amazing things that can support learning, they do not intuitively play nice with other devices, apps, programs, and accessibility features creating a restrictive environment which is counter-intuitive to what we’re trying to achieve. I think of Apple and Microsoft as the super cool kids at lunch that will only sit with their like-minded and dressed friends, and from a distance, they look super cool and awesome but without a social membership to their club, you aren’t permitted to sit with them at their members only table.  Chromebooks are the nice kid that doesn’t really care where he or she sits or with whom, never judges you on your appearance, and actually listens to what you have to say, all while helping you with your math homework. As an adult, you realize that’s who you should have taken to prom.

All of these reasons make Chromebooks THE quintessential tool for utilizing technology to create The Least Restrictive Environment.  

My son has had a Chromebook since third grade, and it has been the great equalizer that has allowed him to participate in the general ed classroom.  As a sixth grader, he only has to be pulled from the regular ed classroom for Language Arts to receive direct explicit instruction in reading and writing.  However, despite his struggles with reading and writing, his Chromebook allows him to be included and earn honor roll status in general ed. Math, Science, and Social Studies.
#2)  Text to Speech and Speech to Text:  Students with dyslexia, that struggle to read, and/or with dysgraphia, that struggle to write, can achieve the Least Restrictive Environment with access to speech to text and text to speech applications.  Speech to text allows students to speak their thoughts and the computer writes their words for them, while text to speech does the opposite and allows the computer to read the words on the screen to the student.  With these accessibility features, students gain a tremendous amount of independence, as they will no longer have to leave the classroom to have a teaching assistant or co-teacher read the text or scribe for them.  Instead, students can stay in the classroom to receive their support. Google apps like docs and slides will have these capabilities in their Tools and Add-ons menu, but there are also some outstanding programs that will allow students to utilize these functions outside of a google app.  For example, if they wanted to read a website or write a response in an online discussion platform that is not sponsored by a google app, they will have to have a special software program. My favorite is Read and Write Literacy Software that was designed to assist Special Education with their literacy needs. They have an outstanding program that gives students access to text to speech and speech to text applications. With their upgraded membership, they also include the holy grail of accessibility which allows students to work in a pdf.  Therefore, teachers can simply scan their worksheets or textbook pages as a pdf and the software has the ability to recognize the words in the picture and read them. Furthermore, they also offer some other amazing tools like voice recording, voice prediction, picture dictionary, and post-it annotations. They recently released a math version called EquatIO that does the tough job of dictating math equations and formulas which have, until now, been virtually absent from the world of accessibility.
#3) Screencasting: Technology has allowed us to get away from the norm in which we rely on written language to preserve content.  Meaning, we no longer need worksheets or slideshows with written words to be the only way to transfer information to students.  Imagine how incredibly frustrating it must be for a child with a language disability that impacts their reading to constantly have to use reading to access the curriculum. Forcing a child with a disability in reading to read your curriculum content to learn or study from is like forcing a child in a wheelchair to participate in Phys. Ed.  Nobody would argue that a physically disabled child can learn the concept of teamwork without being forced to actually participate on a basketball team. Following that same logic, a child with a reading disability should not be forced to read worksheets or textbooks to understand the curriculum, and yet this occurs in classrooms every single day. However, with easy to access screencasting extensions like Screencastomatic or Screencastify, teachers and parents can stop this offense by screencasting study guides and note sheets.  Screencasting is a tool that allows the teacher to record their screen AND themselves either in a video or audio recording so that the learning artifact becomes multi-sensory and allows the student to rely on something else other than their reading skills to independently participate in the curricular content. Teachers can still use their traditional worksheets or slideshows that benefit nondisabled students, but they can make them a useful document by simply pulling up the document on their Chromebook and clicking record on one of many screencasting extensions while narrating the notes in a video recording that the student can access to study.  This gives total autonomy to the student and his or her learning, as they can access the video recording independently as many times as they need to until they have absorbed the information, much like the way their nondisabled peers will repeatedly read their class notes to study.

My son successfully uses screencasts to review his notes.  As an SDI, his teachers are required to submit a completed study guide to his google drive. I simply pull up the document, press record on my screencasting tool of choice, and then simply read the notes out loud.  I then upload the completed video to youtube and send him a shareable link to his phone. This allows him to access it as many times as he wants and completely eliminates the anxiety (aka freak out) associated with studying, as I’m asking him to do nothing but listen and watch the video. Furthermore, it gives him freedom on where to study.  He can pop on his headphones and listen on the bus ride to school or even in between classes right before the test. In addition, I get the added bonus of being able to track the number of views through my youtube account which tells me he actually did study.
#4) Video Assessment: Along the same lines as using screencasting for learning and review, teachers can begin to create the Least Restrictive Environment by utilizing video or audio recordings for assessments. For a student who has a disability in writing, it doesn’t make sense to assess their knowledge of a subject through writing. That’s like asking a child without a hand to give you a high five and then failing him because he can’t! Instead, students can be given the opportunity to record themselves talking about the content material which allows the teacher to truly and fairly assess their understanding of the curricular material. This can be achieved very easily by utilizing the numerous screencasting extension tools that are available in Chrome.  Flipgrid is a great screencasting program that is actually designed for assessment, as it will post the teacher’s question and allow the student 90 seconds to record their response. I’ve used this as an assessment tool in my class in place of the traditional end of the novel-essay. I wanted to assess my student’s feelings about the completed novel, but I didn’t need to have the assignment assess their writing. I was incredibly pleased with my students’ responses, as uninhibited by the rules of writing, I was able to get very insightful and authentic responses which allowed me to feel confident that I was truly assessing their understanding and analysis of the novel in a way that their developing writing skills would be unable to.

5) Google Calendars: For a learning disabled student, a day of school is like running a marathon…on a broken foot. When students finally get home, they want nothing more than to retreat to their safe space and relax no longer vulnerable to their disabilities.  However, homework makes that difficult. The subject of homework in my house results in an all-out panic filled with rage, denial, and avoidance…and that’s just the way I handle it. My son’s response is much worse. After completing a marathon, the last thing a runner wants to hear is “Oh, by the way, you still have another mile to run” or eight depending on how much work was assigned.  Sometimes the most difficult part for a learning disabled student is just figuring out what exactly is assigned. Teachers use different individualized ways to communicate to students what is due. One may post all of their assignments on their website, another may have it posted on their chalkboard calendar in the front of the room, while another may rely on personally communicating to the students by announcing the homework assignment at the end of the period.  To a non-disabled student being able to navigate those individual ways of communication is totally acceptable, manageable, and part of the learning experience. However, for a learning disabled student, having all of their teachers use a different mode of communication is complete chaos and a recipe for disaster…or at the very least incompletion. Instead, teachers and parents can support their learning disabled students by utilizing a Google Calendar. Each teacher creates their own calendar, posts their assignments to it, and shares the calendar with the student and their parents.  The parents and the student then have one place to go to see what is due the following day and as GI Joe used to say during my formidable years, “Knowing is half the battle.” In addition, the calendar can be set to send out reminders to parents and students that will show up on their phone giving them a heads up on what is due the following day.

Achieving the Least Restrictive Environment is now more manageable than ever.  With the appropriate device, utilization of accessibility features, and innovative teaching practices, more students will be able to have their special education needs met without ever leaving their classroom!

PARENT PRO TIP: IDEA, 2004, states IEP teams are required to consider the assistive technology needs of all children with disabilities which can be determined through a SETT evaluation. If you believe your child would benefit from any of the above mentioned SDI’s please write a letter to your child’s principal or LEA stating that you would like to have a meeting to discuss having a SETT evaluation to determine if technology can help your child achieve the Least Restrictive Environment. If your child is below grade level in reading or writing, there is no doubt that technology can help create this environment for your child. Once it is determined that technology can be used to help, discuss the above-mentioned points about Chromebooks, accessibility features like speech to text and text to speech, screencasting, video assessment, and Google calendars to argue that these tools will help your child to achieve an ambitiously appropriate education in the Least Restrictive Environment.  In addition, do your part by learning how to access and utilize these tools to help support your child. You simply have to google “how to use speech to text” or “how to screencast”, and Google will show you how. Making it a mission to familiarize yourself with the latest educational technology will give you the upper hand in IEP meetings so that you know what to ask for and why, but more importantly, it will empower you to assist your child as they navigate the very difficult challenge of learning.
TEACHER PRO TIP:  IDEA, 2004, states IEP teams are required to consider the assistive technology needs of all children with disabilities.  As a member of your student’s IEP team, if you believe that a Chromebook or any of the above-mentioned tools could help provide an ambitiously appropriate education in the Least Restrictive Environment for any of your special education students, then it is your responsibility to schedule an IEP meeting to discuss this with the team. I understand that this can be uncomfortable and intimidating, as teachers often feel they will get in trouble if they suggest changing a child’s IEP or asking the district to spend more money on a student; however, please know it’s your job to do so. You cannot get in trouble for advocating for the least restrictive environment of your special education students.  Utilizing your voice for a child who can’t is one of the noblest things a teacher can do, so do not be afraid, the law is on your side. In addition, none of the above-mentioned tools or strategies are terribly difficult to learn or implement. In fact many can be considered best practices for all of your students, not just your disabled ones; therefore, utilizing these tools to innovate your teaching practices may do more than create the Least Restrictive Environment for your Special Education students. If you ever doubt that the risk or effort may not be worth it, please never forget that special education students whose needs are not met in school are three times more likely to engage in high-risk behavior like suicide, addiction, or criminal activity.  Supporting these students does more than just help them, it is one of the most measurable ways a teacher can quite literally make the world a better place.

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Special Needs Parent

Nobody tells you that when your child receives a diagnosis, so do you.

Special Needs Parent, the term referring to the parent of a child with special needs, is a term I fully embrace…now.  

However, it took me a while to find it.  

For those of us with special needs children, the term Special Needs Parent finds us all in our unique way.  For me, it was a moment of complete oblivion. It felt very much like the moment when a student asks a question in class that is either so ridiculous or was literally just discussed that all the kids in the room look at each other with a ‘Is this kid serious’ look while the teacher, trying desperately not to embarrass the kid, puts on their most compassionate smile and gently answers the question trying so very hard to protect the student’s feelings. However, their kindness is suspect so the kid realizes something is wrong…but isn’t quite sure what it is.  

That’s what it was like for me.

I was at The Home Depot.  

Yes, I know how incredibly cliche that seems.  The place where do it yourselfer’s go to fix their household problems confident of their ability to handle any situation knowing that if only they find the right tool or advice they can fix that gnawing problem that has their home life completely disrupted.  That’s pretty much the metaphor of a Special Needs Parent.

My son was a few months old, and I had just moved back to the same street as my childhood home because living seven houses away from my parents’ home seemed like the best way to get some much-needed help for dealing with the special needs of my child.  I needed some new household items, so my mother drove my son and me to The Home Depot.

At that time, the doctor was experimenting with a foot brace instead of casting to help set my son’s deformed foot.  He had already had a surgery and multiple casts, but we were at the stage of the treatment in which my son had to be strapped into shoes that were connected by a metal bar.  The shoes were set to a very extreme angle which was supposed to help set his foot flat and at the correct angle.  The brace looked like a medieval torture device, and based on my son’s reaction, it must have felt like one too.  Heavy and cumbersome, my son despised every second he had to wear it.

The awkwardness of the bar made it difficult for him to sit in his car carrier in the cart, so I had him strapped into a baby carrier on my chest.  He was a big boy, to begin with, but with this thick metal bar attached to his feet, the burden of the extra weight on my shoulder as he swung his legs banging the bar into my pelvis made it almost unbearable to hold him.

We were near the electrical section looking at light fixtures when a lovely woman approached us and began talking sweetly to my son.  Most people when they saw my son and the various devices the doctors used to help him walk made awkward statements with attempts of humor (“…what does the other guy look like”) or unsolicited advice (“…you can’t take your eyes off of them for a second”).

However, she was different.  She seemed to know exactly what she was looking at. “Aren’t you so brave with your feet brace…working so hard to have straight feet but smiling the whole time.”  My mom and I shared pleasantries with the woman telling her how old he was, who his doctors were, and she shared some tips about how to get him to sleep better with his brace.

Then it happened… ”have you checked out such and such website?”  I said no.  She said, “oh it is such a great resource for special needs parents.”  

I nodded engagingly, but I was somewhat confused because I didn’t realize why she was randomly changing the subject to something so serious as special needs children and their parents.  Again, she was lovely, so I didn’t want to be rude and said quite graciously “Oh great…I’ll be sure to pass that information on to anyone that may need it.”

Then I saw it…the “Oh honey…you don’t know” look.  The one the teacher gives the student when he or she asks “What are we doing” immediately after the teacher just got done giving the directions.  

She said nothing more about it, but that empathetic smile never left her face. Still confused, I said goodbye. My mother and I continued our shopping as if nothing had happened all while I played it over and over in my mind…special needs parent?!?

When we drove away, I asked my mom “Do you think it was odd that she told me about that website?”.

My mom, painfully unable to point out the obvious, simply nodded and quietly said “yeah” before changing the subject back to my house and the fixable problems which are always so much easier to talk about.

It wasn’t until years later after the casts and braces turned into learning difficulties and emotional disturbances that I actually realized she was talking about me.  That I was a special needs parent.  I laugh now at what I must have looked like on that day struggling to carry a baby wearing those unmanageable foot braces while chatting about the various doctors and medical procedures he had experienced all before ever being able to sit up on his own.

Yet, when I heard special needs parent I was painfully unaware that his needs were in fact special. 

Furthermore, I was even more oblivious that while he had his own special needs, as his mother, I had some special needs as well.  While his special needs included specialist visits, braces, and procedures, as his mom my needs included empathy, support, and the patience of others to allow me to understand my son’s limitations in my own good time which was demonstrated so gracefully by the nameless woman in the Home Depot.  

Truth be told,  I am a special needs mom and have been one since that first diagnosis.

 

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Holding Him Down

 

I read somewhere that the human baby is born immature. That technically, the first three months is such a vulnerable developmental stage so dependant upon the mother that some doctors consider it the final stage of pregnancy. Any mother would agree that the first three months are the hardest because the baby needs you…all of the time.  It wasn’t until I had my second child did I fully understand how the first three months should truly be. While difficult, it truly is a special time between the mother and the baby in which their relationship is defined.  For my second child, it was full of tender moments in which I held him gently in my arms, deep into the morning hours, while he peacefully slept unaware of the dangers of this world.   When he cried, I picked him up and reassured him he was safe.  I made sure he was comfortable by checking that his diaper was dry, belly was full, and clothes were comfortable.  His only task was to be loved and mine was to love him.  

However, with my first, our first three months were not at all like this. He was only three weeks old when he learned the harsh realities of his disability. More importantly, he was only three weeks old when he felt his first betrayal. Most regrettably, it was at my hand.  

While my husband was at work, making sure we still had health insurance and money for the mortgage, I was with our son at his first orthopedic doctor’s appointment in which the doctor had to stretch the foot of our 3 week old baby beyond its limits to begin the first of the too numerous to count casts that he would need to wear to correct his foot deformity.  I anticipated the appointment would be difficult, as I naturally and instinctively accepted my role as his protector.  From our first moment together, I held him so protectively…making sure he was warm enough…fed enough…burped enough…dry enough.  His comfort and protection were paramount.  

However, on that day, my role changed.  The doctor, who was a kind man who had spent his whole life correcting the deformed feet of babies, entered the room, and I reluctantly handed the baby to the nurse, essentially a stranger, who put his tiny body on the large paper-lined steel table.  The doctor began examining his foot and the nurse assisted him.  My son was scared and began crying.  I leaned over him to comfort him telling him that mommy was there and that he was okay.

I lied.  

Then the doctor asked me to hold his shoulders down because he was moving too much making it difficult to angle his foot appropriately.  So, that’s what I did…and his cries turned into long wails of fear filled pain, as he used all the strength he could muster to break free.

Then it happened, at 3 weeks old, my son felt my betrayal, as I went from his protector to a conspirator in his fear and pain.  It was unnatural, and I felt something inside both of us had been broken by that moment.  

Obviously, I rationalized the need for him to be still so that the doctor could do the work that was needed to help him one day walk.  However, my heart felt it as nothing more than betrayal, and as the weeks turned into a series of visits in which one cast was removed and a new one replaced, I learned quite quickly that my relationship with my son would be painfully complex as protection and betrayal would need to coexist with one another.

 

My Promise

I was ten weeks pregnant.  Just two short weeks away from announcing our special secret to the world when I saw the blood.  It was bright red, and it streaked my underwear and dripped slowly and methodically into the toilet.  I was losing this baby.   I cried out “NO…”.   I had never felt that type of pain before, as the pain of motherhood was new to me. Paralyzed by fear, I remembered a story my mother had told me stating that a miscarriage was God’s way of showing mercy to a child that would have a life of struggle.  I silently begged the God I believed in to please show mercy to me and not destroy this little life I had already fallen in love with.  I promised that no matter how great the problems he would have that I would protect him from the pain.  After shedding a thousand tears and making more promises to God than imaginable, the bleeding stopped.  The baby was not compromised, and my child would live to feel the love I earned on that day.  And without regret or doubt, each day I continue to fulfill the promise I made that day.

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The Call

The phone rang.  I was home and received the call in the mint green kitchen my husband and I had painted in our first home together.  Sitting down at the hand-me-down table my mother gave me which bore witness to all of my holidays and special meals, I would receive information that would change my life forever.  “Mrs. Woodard, this is your doctor, I’m calling because I have some information from the ultra-sound I need to share with you.” (ummm…okay)  She went on “I know you were a college athlete and you continue to coach (what does this have to do with an ultra-sound)…and sports are very important to you…(what the hell is this woman rambling on about)…well I have some difficult news to tell you.  Based on the ultra-sound your son has a pretty significant birth defect.   (what………………?)  It’s called a club foot.  Essentially, it’s a foot deformity….blah…blah…blah…blah….  I don’t really remember the details after that.  Something to the effect of “there are great medical options available…with the correct help he should be able to walk….   I’m sure I said thank you, or something to that effect.  Hanging up the phone, alone in that green kitchen at my mother’s table, I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.  

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The Mythological Red Flag Parent

When challenged by the needs of special education students, in frustration, I have heard teachers say the most horrible things about the parents and the student. In fact, before I became a special needs mom, as an English teacher I admit I had said them as well. Let’s address the myths of The Red Flag Parent and the ambitiously appropriate education he or she is fighting to achieve:

  • This mom is craaaazzzy…” – You are correct.  I love and am responsible for a child whose birthright consists of having two strikes against him and have been given the charge to defend and preserve the one and only swing he has left.  I am under-rested and over-stressed and have bore witness to his physical and personal pain, as I have held his hand through too many procedures and difficult conversations. While you think you are just attending a mandatory meeting or receiving an email, I, on the other hand, have and will always feel backed into a corner protecting my child in the hopes of providing him a temporary moment of relief because I am his voice and defender. So, yes, unfortunately, that does come across as unapologetically crazy.
  • “Cut the cord already…”  Sure…no problem…as soon as you teach him to read and write at grade level so that he can be an independent learner capable of his potential, I will gladly step aside.  However, until then, I will be an active member of his IEP team which gives me a federal and state protected right to question, suggest, and recommend.
  • “She’s doing more harm than good…”  Let’s take a moment and analyze the type of harm I am working to prevent.  As a learning disabled student, my son’s chances of suicide, high-risk behavior, and incarceration drastically increase in comparison to regular education students.  Data shows that providing the appropriate interventions for special education students can positively impact their lives by decreasing their risks in these three areas.  So…what harm is it that I am causing by insisting he is given an appropriate education?  Will he grow up being needy and relying on assistance…yeah…that’s what it means to have a disability.  I, however, would just like to see him #1 grow up and #2  NOT be needy on drugs or #3 NOT go to jail.
  • “Thinks her kid is going to Harvard…”  LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL. Like many of my hopes and aspirations for my child, the thought of an ivy league education was quickly expunged the moment that first teacher politely whispered: “He’s having a difficult time…”!  Long before the official request for an evaluation or first IEP meeting, dreams of Harvard…and many other things…were quickly distinguished.  Ask me what I dream about now…I’ll tell you… my kid reading at grade level.   Seriously…that’s it.
  • “She literally just wants me to give him the answers to the test…” No, actually I don’t.  What I want is for you to properly educate my son in the manner in which his brain learns. Thinking that simply giving him the answers to a test will help him learn is a gross lack of understanding of how to teach him. Please understand, I don’t view an F on my son’s test as his failure.  I view it as yours.  
  • “Not preparing him for The Real World…”  I’m sorry which part of the real world wasn’t I preparing him for?  The part in which life is not fair…the part in which he will always have to work twice as hard as everyone else to get half the results…the part in which people consistently demonstrate their lack of education and empathy in their judgement of him…the part in which he will judge himself not by his ability to overcome outstanding obstacles but by the way in which he believes others are judging his deficits…or the part in which he constantly wishes he could give up (and I don’t blame him) but consistently tries again.  I’m curious as to which part of The Real World does living with a learning disability not prepare him for?
  • “We never had this stuff…”  Correct. There are a number of reasons for that…including…the obvious we weren’t learning disabled…so we didn’t need it.  Secondly, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was not enacted until 1990.  As a result, the students that were learning disabled weren’t protected and were denied an appropriate education.  Where do you think they got the baseline data regarding suicide, high-risk behavior, and incarceration rates?  So, no we didn’t have this stuff…but it didn’t mean kids we went to school with didn’t need it.
  • “And he still failed…” Yup…you will jump through hoops, and he will still fail…which will drive you crazy. Trust me…I get it.

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My Why.

 

It was my worst nightmare.  It had started out as an exciting evening I had been looking forward to for a few weeks.  It was supposed to be a reunion with girls I had been friends with for 30 years.  We had all played sports together for several years in high school and college, and after weeks of working out schedules, we were finally getting together to catch up on our lives, share memories, and remind ourselves of who we used to be.  Seven of us met up, and four of the seven were teachers…two elementary, one junior high teacher, and myself, a high school English teacher.  

After all of the hugs and the “It’s soo good to see you”s, we sat down to talk and before the first glass of wine had been poured it started.  One of the teachers started in on what a terrible week it had been and how much she needed that glass of wine.  “Parents are crazy…” she began.  In sympathetic agreement, we all nodded our heads, as she began her story about the parent of one of her special education students.  Then it began…she said all the horrible things that keep the parent of a special education student up at night…in the constant “what if they…”  and “no they would never…”   internal insomniac dialogue battle that keeps the coffee companies in business.

“This mom is Craaaazzzy…cut the cord already….really she’s doing more harm than good…thinks her kid is going to Harvard…she literally just wants me to give him the answers to the test…not preparing him for the Real World…we never had this shit…and he still failed!”

There was a lot more to it than all of that, but those were the highlights.

It is important to note that this wasn’t an inexperienced educator from some badly performing district.  She was an ivy league graduate with a Master’s in education, working in a very successful district, in a state that values education.  A few weeks earlier, she had been nominated by a former student to win the “Teacher of the Year” award for our county.  I had always known her to be a kind and empathetic person that would do anything for anyone, and yet here she was saying EXACTLY what should never be said by an educator responsible for working with a special education student.

Taking a deep breath and trying not to play my hand too early, I asked her some very specific questions that she was unable to answer which included what is the child’s disability, did the mom actually say that, and what type of support was she receiving in the classroom.  Then, I reminded her that my son was a special needs student that would be at her school the following fall. She joked, “Well…don’t request me.”  To which I explained the multiple disabilities my son had, made quick reference to the way it impacted my family which included an anecdote in which my son had taken two showers, forty minutes apart, the previous evening because he had forgotten about the first shower, followed by a description of the social anxiety my son feels due to his difficulties in the classroom, and then finished by informing her that his doctor explained to me that due to that anxiety, at 10 years old, he was high risk for suicide.  By that point, she was crying and said, “I’ll help him any way I can.”

For a while I had been contemplating the idea of writing a blog to speak to the struggle of the red flag parent, as in my experiences, they are the most feared and least understood villain in the education game.  I’m sharing my story, first because it’s the only one I know, and second because I know teachers and educational decision makers are good people that are in this for the right reasons, and it is my hope that if they understand or are reminded that “the struggle is real”, hopefully,  like my kind and discouraged friend and possibly my son’s future teacher, they will agree to help him and all special education students any way they can.

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