What the Regular Classroom Teacher Won't Tell You about the System
By Maureen James
If you are a parent of a special needs child please remember that you and sometimes only you are the biggest advocate for your child. Many parents take for granted that a conversation occurs between the special education teacher and the regular education teacher involving the betterment of their child. In many cases, the special education teacher may never have such a conversation with the regular education teacher. Furthermore, some regular classroom teachers may not even read your child's IEP.
As a veteran Chicago Public School teacher, I often warn my friends who have children with special needs that sometimes many students fall through the cracks. During one school year, a special education teacher I worked with transferred to another school in December. However, the principal did not fill the vacancy. So, for the remaining 23 weeks of the school year, many special needs children did not have any services. In my experience, I have received some of my students IEP's months into the school year. Also, in many cases, this lack of communication between the resource teacher and the regular classroom teacher is due to the unrealistic caseload that many special education teachers may carry. In some schools, one special education teacher may be responsible for over fifty students at one time. Remember, these students are mainstreamed into different classrooms and most have different schedules, with different teachers. Not to mention that the same resource teacher has to communicate with as many as twenty teachers what the best learning environment is for each special needs student.
Often, the biggest problem is not with the special education teacher, but rather the regular education teacher. I have worked with many talented and dedicated special education teachers who did communicate with all of the regular classroom teachers. However, many regular education teachers do not follow the instructions of the IEP. Sadly, I have known some teachers who do not even read IEP's. Such teachers have confessed to me that they believe that learning disabled students are"just lazy". One teacher I worked with said he didn't read the IEP's because he would just give all the special needs children regardless of how they performed to keep parents and the special education department off his back.
As a parent, what can you do to ensure that your child has a rewarding experience within the regular education classroom? First, meet all of your child's teachers. All schools have an open house a few weeks into the school year. Ask the regular education teachers if they were able to read your child's IEP. Furthermore, you should sit down with the special education teacher to review the IEP and understand the goals and the required accommodations. You may have to explain the IEP to the regular classroom teacher. Secondly, call the school and arrange for a telephone chat with teachers. I have had many phone conversations with parents that helped me as a teacher to understand a child's needs better. Third, find out where your child sits in the classroom. A common and helpful accommodation on most IEP's is to have the child sit in the front of the classroom. Lastly, try to get the email address for the special education teacher, as well as the regular classroom teachers. Communication is the key to your child's success.
Maureen James is a high school history teacher and reading specialist, with nearly twenty years experience.