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

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Teacher interactions with parents of children with disabilities

I recently had the opportunity to do an inservice for a local public school. The school called me to speak to the teachers who were feeling discouraged and beaten up by parents of their students, largely early elementary age, who had disabilities. As I was reflecting on what I would say to the teachers, my mind went to Micah 6:8 one my most favorite verses. The school was not a Christian school, but I told them they invited a Christian college professor to speak to them, and I was going to base my comments on a Bible verse.

"In your interactions with parents," I said, "your standard should be to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly." Let me repeat a bit of that advice here.

As a teacher you need to do justly, which although it might sound easy, is not. I always tell the new teachers that I work with that you need to think about what you are willing to loose your job over. I had dinner with some friends last night, who are also professionals in special education who told me that they know of a local district who literally have a staff person who's main responsibility is to not give parents what they are after in terms of programming for their children. I was speaking to a program specialist, a person who supervises and assists special education teachers, and an old student of mine, who told me that in her district, the have a special program which is state of the art for children with autism. However, you cannot get your child those services unless you threaten to go to "fair hearing" which is kind of like taking the negotiations for a child with disabilities' educational program into the legal system. In these and other cases, school districts are frustrating the doing of justice. You don't need to talk to many parents to find out how difficult it is to get the services you are supposed to get, from the state. You have to fight. As a teacher, you should not be on the side of those who frustrate parents. You should not be only and always on the side of parents. You need to be on the side of justice as best as you can understand it. And yes, there are things worth losing your job over.

As a teacher you should also love mercy. Parents of children with disabilities are "wounded" in similar ways to which persons with disabilities are wounded. See this blog entry for more on wounding. Because people are wounded, they can be sensitive, hostile, aggressive. However, when I approach a situation where I remember that I am the professional in the situation, and I remember that those with whom I am interacting are wounded, and I know what I know about issues of justice described above it should cause mercy to well up in me. I approach people differently when I realize they are in the need of mercy.

Finally, I need to walk humbly. As teacher, as a professional, my problem may be that I think I know more than I actually do. I can be too quick to minimize parent input, or vilify parents, or just do a lot of blaming. But more than just about anything, as a teacher I need to walk humbly. I need to recognize my limitations, recognize the exceeding importance of parents and family in the life of a child with a disaiblity. I need to recognize that I represent the State, and as such a representative, I am not always on the just side of the argument about services. I have sat in on IEP meetings where haughty, self-impressed professionals bully parents. I cannot be one of those people. I need to be humble in my interactions with all people, but in particular as a professional in interactions with parents, children and families.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jeff,

Thank you for reminding us that there are things worth losing your job over.

I have a student, profoundly intellectually disabled, with goals that include "responding by establishing eye contact when her name is called 'with physical prompts'."

Late last week I had a visit with her parents, both immigrants from central Asia. Dad is an M.D., Mom also seems highly educated. Both are concerned, and expect me, to communicate detailed information about their daughter's day, and how her goals were addressed. Now, I have been working to her very modest goals and communicating about my student's day as diligently as I could. During the meeting both parents wanted to know what we were doing for her academically. Academically? I'm supposed to try to get her to exit a semi fetal position; what academics?!

Mom showed me that this girl is able to indicate a called capital letter, discriminate and select words, by sight , like "stop", "go", "yes", "no". I don't know if my student assigns any meaning to these symbols or not.

My point is, these responses, skills are at a infinitely higher level of performance than the, basically, infantile goals written for her.

I don't know if it is a matter of cultural differences between the families culture an ours, but I am shocked that the parents accepted the baby sitting goals foisted upon them.

I don't know exactly where the line is between what I feel obliged to advocate for my students, what to say to parents, and what to advocate in the IEP meeting. But I do know there are places I must take a stand, even if taking the stand comes with great risk.

My students parents have asked for a new, emergency IEP, to address 1:1 assistance and academic performance. I fear the district, and my NPS school will resist. She turns 22 next year and will exit Special Ed. I will have to answer the argument, "What"s the point now?"