How to Be Your Child's Best Advocate: How to Talk to Your Child's Teacher
If your child is of school age then some of the most important people in your child's life other than family and friends are his or her teachers. Teachers will be spending a lot of time with your child during the day. So it is all the more imperative for you, as a parent and advocate for your child, to foster a good working relationship between you and your child's teachers.
In writing this post you must realize that I have sat on either side of the meeting table. I was an instructor for over a decade working with people who had multiple disabilities. I was responsible for writing goals and objectives for clients under my care. I held numerous meetings where parents and caregivers would relay their concerns and expectations. Some of these expectations were reasonable and some, in my opinion, were not. But I did always attempt to build that relationship between parents, caregivers and myself so that my client's needs came first. When it comes to what these needs were and what priority should be given to some needs over others, there will always be some difference of opinion. This is to be expected and is just simply part of the process.
I became a lot more empathic to parent's concerns when I became a parent myself and to a child having special needs. The things I thought were perfectly reasonable were not always seen that way by school personnel. To tell you the truth there were times I found myself in an adversarial position in fighting for my son's right to what I felt was an appropriate education. I have learned a lot along the way and I want to share both my experience and knowledge here with you.
Getting to Know Your Child's Teachers:
You begin the process of getting to know your child's teachers right from the beginning of the school year. Most schools have a "meet the teacher" day. Don't miss it. Most schools also have parent teacher conference especially for the primary grades. If you have a child who has special needs or you have concerns, these meetings are of great value to you as a parent. You want to find out the following information:
- Who are all the teachers and staff who will be involved with my child? If you are able, it would be a good idea to pay a visit to as many of your child's teachers as you can.
- When I have questions or concerns what is the protocol? May I request a meeting? Do the teachers use email? What is the best way to contact you?
- Who is the support or resource person who will address any questions pertaining to my child's special needs?
- What are the school and classroom rules? What happens when a child violates these rules? What is the school policy as far as disciplinary action? What if I disagree with these actions?
- How do teachers reinforce or reward students for good behavior? You want to see if the teacher is focused upon positive approaches towards managing classroom behavior as opposed to a teacher who simply reacts and punishes.
- How will my child's special needs be addressed in your classroom? If your child has an IEP, the stated goals on that plan must carry over into each and every classroom.
I could go on and on but these are but some of the questions you may wish to ask your child's teachers. If your child has an IEP or Individualized Educational Program, then you may request a meeting at any time to discuss IEP concerns. Basically you want to ensure that you understand how the teachers and school react to problems which may arise. You don't want to be in the situation where you are totally surprised by what happens in your child's classroom.
Ways to Foster Good Communication With the Teacher:
- Start your sentences with "I feel" or "I think that" instead of an accusatory tone of "You don't do this" or you don't do that.
- Listen to what is said even if it is difficult to hear. We see our child at home and it may be a very different situation entirely when your child is in the classroom environment. You don't have to agree with everything being said but listen in an active way. This means to seek clarification. Say things like, "What I am hearing you say is..." and then see if what you are hearing is what the teacher had intended to say.
- Show empathy. It is true that some teachers are over worked with too many children in a classroom. Some things you wish the teacher could do may not be practical. Try to see things from the teacher's point of view of having to teach many children. This is no excuse for mistreatment of children nor is it an excuse for your child not getting the education he or she is entitled to. But empathy does go a long way towards building rapport and a relationship with the teacher.
- Convey that you are on his or her side in that you want to be of assistance to the teacher to help your child. If you and the teacher are at odds, then your child loses out.
- It is a relationship builder to show appreciation for attempts the teacher has shown at meeting your child's needs. A little sugar goes a long way.
When there are problems:
- Write it down. If you are having consistent problems with a teacher then you need to begin documenting your efforts. Before scheduling a meeting you should be able to send an email to the teacher outlining the problem and/or what you wish to talk about. Keep this documentation should you need it later if there has been no resolution.
- Take notes at meetings. Write down what is said and enlist the teacher's help in clarifying what is agreed upon during these meetings.
- Before ending a meeting with the teacher write down an action plan of what will be done next to address the problem, a time table of when these things will be done, and who will do them.
- Provide solutions. Instead of playing the blame game of who is not doing what, enlist the help of the teacher to come up with reasonable solutions to any problems within the parameters of school policy. If you question the teacher's interpretation of policy you can always ask for clarification from higher ups including the vice-principal and principal of the school.
- If you need to, provide research, literature, letters from therapists, doctors, or other educational experts to help define your points. Note that some teachers or school personnel will be defensive upon such presentations but in the end it may be just what you need to get what you need for your child.
An excellent way to get to know more about your child's teachers and what they do with your kid all day is to VOLUNTEER! Getting involved in this way will provide you with tons of information both about how your child copes within the classroom as well as what the teacher's strengths and limitations may be.
Request that the teachers have a written log or notebook to communicate with you and with other teachers during the day. It doesn't have to be anything cumbersome. Just a few notes written each day about your child's behavior from each of his or her teachers can give you a heads up as to any potential problems.
Here are but a few resources to assist you in advocating for your child:
The Special Needs Education Hotline: 800-610-2779
Do you have any suggestions or stories to tell with regard to advocating for your child with special needs? Please do share them here. Your input and shared experience is invaluable to other readers who may be going through the same thing.