Wednesday, December 16, 2015

*That* Parent, *That* Teacher

I chuckle wryly kidogo as I post this blog entry because it touches a nerve that was just recently exposed, although in kind of a reverse order as in the article below.

I've been having a bit of an issue lately with some of the parents in Msaranga not wanting Toa Nafasi services for their children, feeling it differentiates them (Negatively?  Unfairly??  Or is it just bad enough to be "different"???), and it has been a real struggle to try to convince them that a.) their child does need extra support, b.) it's okay to need said extra support, and c.) said extra support will be provided at no additional effort or expense to them except to open their minds to the idea.

Rather than lackluster teachers and a broken system holding kids back (as described below), in our case it's stubborn parents unable to make the leap from what they know to what Toa Nafasi is introducing.  I get that it's new and slightly scary, but we've really gone out of our way with some of these parents to put their minds at ease that just because a child is working with Toa, it doesn't mean he's bad or shameful, he won't become any "worse" by playing with more severely impaired kids, and we really are trying to provide a service that, in addition to helping individual children, also benefits the community at large.

Now, no matter how often I have to make this little speech nor how many times this same issue arises, I will never become *that* teacher as the parents are described in the article: demanding, annoying, angry, unrealistic, unreasonable.  It's simply not productive in a community without our Western viewpoint of special needs (only recently acquired ourselves), but I did feel this story resonate with some recent emails back and forth between me and Tanzania this Fall.  Hopefully, when I return in a mere ten days, I can gather my forces and go back in, armed with as much information as possible.  Once informed, it will be up to the parents to have the final say in how the child proceeds in his studies.

Check out this article just posted on The Huffington Post blog by Early Childhood Development expert, Laurie Levy: "How School Systems Create *That* Parent for Children in Special Education."  As a strong believer in diversity and the rights of children with special needs, Levy seeks to empower parents and educators, and create caring and just communities.


Demanding.  Annoying.  Angry.  Unrealistic.  Unreasonable.  Every teacher, principal, and school district administrator knows *that* parent.  In special education, there are much greater numbers of *that* parent, and I'm sure school systems feel irritated and challenged by the threats of law suits and seemingly endless fights over Individualized Education Plan (IEP) goals.  But do they realize their role in creating *that* parent?

In an earlier post, I begged teachers not to force parents to become *that* parent, explaining that all parents, and especially those of children with special needs, want to be liked and work in partnership with their children's teachers.  The incident I cited was the failure of a special education teacher to communicate with the parents of a non-verbal child, or even to answer their emails asking about the child spending time in a "quiet room" and the lack of a behavior plan for its use.

After five emails, the teacher responded and offered to meet.  The meeting consisted of her pulling the child's mother aside during pick up time to reassure her that the room was actually more of a closet with a door that didn't lock, that the child chose to go to the room, and that it helped to regulate his behavior. 

These parents are so polite and accommodating that they accepted the explanation and decided to wait a few days before requesting a more formal meeting.  They had arranged for a visit from a specialist in teaching reading to non-verbal children, and she was coming that week to train the special education classroom teacher.  These trainings were part of the child's IEP.  Except the training didn't happen because the school failed to arrange for a sub.  Instead, the school district special education department suggested a classroom aide could be trained.  But it is not legal for anyone other then a special education teacher to carry out the instructional minutes mandated by the IEP.  So no, that didn't happen.

Now the parents transitioned from being nice to being extremely angry and frustrated.  Now they became *that* parent.  Yes, they admit their child can be difficult and they are aware of his behavioral challenges.  But they also know their child is capable of learning and can actually read.  His capacity to learn is demonstrated in private therapy and at home.  Just not at school.  In short, he has been deprived of years of education by a school system mainly focused on his behavior and managing it.

In her blog Let's Be Blunt: The Illusion of Inclusion, Karen Copeland writes about how parents of children receiving special education services evolve into angry parents:

"We are told we need to stay calm and polite in meetings in order to be respectful.  The challenge is that these very systems have set us up and created us to be these angry parents by virtue of the fact that we have had to fight so long and so hard to get our children and families even a fraction of the accommodations and support we need."

Copeland shares the journey of many parents of children with special needs in our public schools:

  • The frustration of not being informed about or consulted when important decisions are made for their children, despite assurances at IEP meetings that they are valuable partners.
  • The need to advocate constantly for the extra support their children require, the support promised to them by law under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • The isolation their families experience in the school setting as parents of typically developing children ignore them and complain that their children are taking too much teacher time and too many resources.
  • The lack of appropriate support and learning adaptations for children placed in general education classrooms without access to resource rooms and specialized teaching.

Like all parents, those of children with special needs want their kids to succeed and live up to their potential.  They also have dreams for their children and believe their children are capable of learning at their own pace.  Like the parents of the child spending time in the "quiet room" closet and being denied appropriate educational interventions, they try to supplement what the schools fail to provide.

Copeland reminds us that schools should never give up on a child regardless of age.  "How many people would write off their own child if he/she was different?"

A school psychologist commented on my earlier blog, "Please be *that* parent.  Your child deserves no less, and your special education team needs the feedback to support your child's success."  Speaking on behalf of all parents of children receiving special education services, I am asking school districts to collaborate, communicate, and consult rather than evade, fight, and blame.  Try it.  I'm sure fewer folks will become *that* parent.

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