What the Regular Classroom Teacher Won't Tell You about the System
By Maureen James
If you are a parent of a child with learning disabilities, 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 general education teacher involving the betterment of their child. In many cases, the special education teacher may never have such a conversation with the general education teacher. Furthermore, some general 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 disabilities that sometimes 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 children with disabilities 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 special educator and the general classroom teacher is due to the unrealistic caseload that special education teachers may carry. In some schools, one special education teacher may be responsible for over fifty students at one time. Students with disabilities at the middle school or high school level are included in different classrooms and most have different schedules, with different teachers. The same resource teacher has to communicate with a group of general education teachers what the best learning environment is for each student with disabilities.
The biggest problem is not with the special education teacher, but rather the general education teacher. I have worked with many talented and dedicated special education teachers who did communicate with all of the general classroom teachers. However, many general 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 students with learning disabilities are "just lazy". One teacher I worked with said he didn't read the IEP's because he would just give all students with disabilities a passing grade 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 general education classroom? First, meet all of your child's teachers. Nearly all schools have an open house a few weeks into the school year. Ask the general 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 general 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 many IEP's is to have the child sit in the front of the classroom; check to see that this is happening if that accommodation is on your child's IEP. 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.