This post is a follow up to the Fight for Education posts written by Heather. Her blog can be found at Cool and Hip, I Am Not.
Acting as your child’s advocate is part of your role as a parent. When you send them off to school, you have to trust that all their needs are being met. And while it is important be involved regardless of your child(ren)’s learning abilities, there is a right way to properly advocate for your child.
One step at a time
Children, contrary to popular belief, do not act the same way at school as they do at home. There are those exceptions to the rule; however, children react to their environment. Just because your daughter cries and pleads inability to complete an assignment at home, does not mean she is struggling at school. The first step if you think your child is struggling is to send a note or email to the teacher asking for a meeting to discuss your concerns. Please note the emphasis on asking.
Go to the meeting with an open mind.
All humans, by innate nature, act differently when certain influences either are present or taken away. When you are in the meeting with the teacher, be willing to listen to his or her responses when voicing your concerns.
You may say something like, “Lately, I’ve noticed that Billy struggles when a worksheet has a lot of reading as as opposed to worksheets asking simple multiple choice questions.”
By simply stating what you have witnessed at home, you are neither accusing the teacher of any wrong doing or putting him or her on the defense. This enables the conversation to flow more easily.
Reversely, should the teacher contact you first, do not automatically put up a defensive wall. Listen to what the teacher has to say. He or she would not contact if there wasn’t a concern.
By talking with the teacher first to rule out any environmental factors that could be causing a problem, together you can brainstorm the possibility of an alternate game plan to correct any problems.
Don’t demand anything.
For any child such as my own, while I felt that he may be in need of special education services, that does not mean I was right. No single child, regardless of learning ability, learns in the same way. Education reform is a major issue in this country right now. One of the trending issues in special education taking away the need to pull students out of the mainstream classroom and having teachers differentiate instruction to meet the needs of each student. The theory is that the children will learn better if they are able to stay in a room with their peers, working on the same work, only it is tailored to fit their needs.
[You can read more about inclusion at Kids Together, Inc.]
Unfortunately, there is a process that has to be followed. Arming yourself with your state and school district’s policies is a good thing, but don’t attempt to use it as a weapon to supersede the process. Don’t come to the school waving around a piece of paper from your pediatrician with a diagnosis. The policies and tests are set in a certain order to protect your child and to ultimately get any services he or she may need. The process does not happen overnight.
If your child is recommended for testing for eligibility of special education services, either by your request or the teacher’s, there is no guarantee that he or she will qualify. The first time my son was tested, he did not qualify. In the tests, he met all the standards acceptable for a child of his grade level. The classroom teacher, the special education teacher, and I all agreed he was struggling, but that struggle was not enough. He, like so many other children, simply had to work a little bit harder in school. We had to work harder at home. I accepted the the results, but in the back in my mind, I kept wondering.
Just as easily as we eventually received services, he could have been denied. It could have been as simple as he just didn’t care to succeed at a level I would have liked. And believe me, there are children in every classroom that just go through the motions and accept any grade given, just to go on to the next day.
When you talk to your child’s teacher, if he or she does not feel like there may be some underlying learning difficulties, listen to the reasons. It is true that you know your child best, but it goes back to that teacher insight. You would be amazed how how similar the same- age group of children are year after year. A teacher has your child (and twenty-something other children’s) best interests at heart.
Without a doubt, parenting is the hardest job we will undertake. Many times we have to make decisions or hear things that are difficult to understand. But arming yourself with some knowledge but by also going in with an open mind, the road traveled will seem less bumpy.
Here are some great resources with additional and more in-depth information:
- Disability Rights California (written for CA but still has good information)
- Wright’s Law Special education advocacy
*My request for testing took several months, a couple of meetings, a pile of paperwork, and a lot of waiting. Just because a parent requests testing, does not mean the testing will commence.
Disclaimer: This post in no way is a substitute for professional advice. Every child, teacher, and situation is unique. The preceding information has been provided to you as a general guide and individual results may vary. Many children simply struggle in school without any underlying cause. Struggles with studies is not a indication of a learning disability. This post should not be taken as an implication as such.