“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Beating each other up

So, in the past 2 months, I have been an advocate for a family with a school district that apparently has been beating up on some parents, and I am going to be an "inspirational" speaker for a different school district, encouraging teachers because the parents and their advocates have been beating up on the teachers. So like a scene out of Clint Eastwood's Fistfull of dollars I am in the midst of playing both sides (although my movie would not be a Fistfull of dollars because unlike Eastwood's character, I am not charging anything, which is not a complaint as I am happy to be an advocate and an encourager for both sides). It is all about the best services for children with disabilities.

Parents too often are placed in the position where they have to fight school districts or any other agents of the state for appropriate services. Schools have limited resources and they attempt to cut corners where they can. So if they can cut corners for your child, then they can serve another child whose has parents who are more active advocates. But I don't want them to cut corners for my child so I fight to get the services that I feel my child needs. Schools will sometimes play games with parents such that parents get tired of being pushed around, or tired of not receiving services, or tired of having their rights stepped on, so they find an advocate, or someone like me who only is interested in the best services being provided for a child. The difference is that by bringing an advocate, or someone like myself into the meetings, the school district acts differently. Even something as simple as the time alloted for the meeting changes from being brief, to as long as it takes. Services providers cannot brow beat parents because someone is in the room who knows the parents' rights. In one meeting, for example, one of the professionals on the school district's side, was pushing a particular IEP goal that the parents were not interested in. The parents tried several times to express that they were not interested in the goal, but the district kept pushing. Finally I spoke up and stated, "The parents do not want this objective so it is dead." Nothing more was said about the objective because that is the parents' right in the IEP meeting and although everyone knew it, the parents were not responding to the districts assertive position with assertions of their own. In spite of what are hopefully the best intentions, schools are villiainzed by parents because they may find that the only way they can get services is to fight. And unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that those who fight often get the best services.

On the other side of the coin are the teachers. Of course there are slackers as there in any job, but largely I believe that teachers are doing their best for their students. Some parents, however, are entirely unable to be satisfied. At times there are issues of not being able to accept their child's disability (I know of parents who want the district to work on reading for a 20+ year old who has not been able to learn to read for their entire school career), or being unreasonable about services (demanding one or more aides, or private school services, or myriad other programs that they may have heard about), or bringing in experts whose sole purpose is to make the district look foolish or to sue. These people are not helpful, because it is true that districts do not have unlimited resources. It is also true that as hard as teachers may try, they are not perfect. There are very few "perfect" classrooms for students with intellectual disabilities, for example, so it is easy to observe a classroom and find fault. Some aspects of programs are considered the most basic of best practices. I try to impress upon my student teachers the importance of instructional data to ensure teacher accountability. However, other aspects are simply opinion. But if I as a parent have an opinion because I saw something on a television program, or read some controversial book, I begin to demand this or that particular program for my child when the teacher may be feeling that there is no empirical evidence supporting a particular approach and the approach is also very expensive. There are many such approaches out there that have great zealots behind them and not a shred of research data supporting the fact that the approach does anything. But parents who may be desperate to find anything that might work with their child are sucked into promises, and then demand services at the local school.

So the educational system is such that teachers feel beat up by parents and advocates, and parents feel beat up by schools and professionals. The system is adversarial at nearly every level. It can even be adversarial between agencies, where some agencies think that they are God's gift as advocates and are quick to villianize other agencies. They become indignant should anyone make any accusations toward them, however. But being a friend of parents, I could tell you stories of unsatisfied parents and family members, and professionals who feel put upon by EVERY state agency.

But I, in response, will continue to advocate for parents for the best services for their offspring from any agency, and I will continue to encourage teachers to be the professionals they are, and to use best practices, and practice accountability.



Anonymous said...

I definitely agree!! I am very glad to hear that you are helping parents with their child's IEPs. I know that IEPs can be stressing at times and even more so for parents who don't know their rights. My friend is very involved in her son's IEP she does everything she can to read up on it and even adds in things herself.

Anonymous said...

I am a new special education teacher working in a classroom with very challenging students. Most of them have been there a long time. I am frustrated by existing IEPs that, to me, mean nothing, because they are so vague in describing the behavior to be addressed, how to replace it and how you will know if you are making progress.

I am also the parent of children with IEPs that were poorly written, even though I believed I was intimately involved with the IEP process.

Parents are given a document that tells them they have been informed of their rights; if they take time during the meeting to read it, they are. Most likely, they just sign and acknowledge that they have been informed. Then the experts take over.

As a teacher, I hope I always remember that I, and the parents are members of an IEP team. I don't want to be thought of as "the expert."

Anonymous said...

This is why intellectual function cannot be measured by IQ tests alone for children with mental retardation. This caution is important also when interpreting scores of students from different cultures. It is important for the school system to have a classification scheme based on the amount of support a person requires to function at his or her highest level.. Regular teachers may never have contact with children or adults if the school is not participating in a full inclusion program for exceptional students, but some will work with children with mild mental retardation. Again, we know that expert teachers are reflective practioners, they must know how to relate their subject to the world of the exceptional student. Not everyone is cut out for it.
Thank God for those special education teachers who undertake such a great responsibility. The rewards must be great.