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BY Melissa

5 Back-to-School suggestions from a special education teacher

As an educator, I understand that one of my primary roles is to develop a positive relationship with families and form open lines of communication between the school and the home. Each student is part of a unique family and in order to effectively teach that child, you must first understand the family. No individual can be understood without recognizing how he or she fits within the entire family. This is a crucial consideration when teaching that I fear many more veteran teachers than I fail to understand.

If you are reading this blog, I want to assure you that I am confident that teacher’s across Michigan our working hard every day for your child. Public educators have received a lot of criticism the last several months stemming from political decisions but the majority of us would agree that we do this job because we LOVE it – not for any monetary reward. We hold your child’s best interest at heart and we are one of their biggest supporters.

At the same time, I recognize that parents are the ones that know their children the best. Therefore, it is my hopes in this posting that I can offer some helpful hints as to how schools and parents can work together as a team to provide what is best for children with special needs. I am hoping to offer insight from the “school side” so parents can understand their vital role in the education process and how important their active involvement and participation throughout the school year truly is.

So, without further ado, some back-to-school suggestions for parents with students who have special needs:

1.  Introduce yourself!

I work in a resource room and generally my caseload involves rather high-functioning students. I was shocked at how very few parents I met at open house (1 out of 19!) I know you and your child are interested in meeting the classroom teacher and touring the building looking for old friends, and I know the first day of school is just chaos, but take just a moment to make sure you and your child know all the teacher’s that will be working with your child. It is so important to establish that relationship as soon as possible.

2.  Stay Involved!

I hope your child has a teacher that communicates often but don’t feel like you are hovering or being bothersome by calling or sending an email to keep in touch with the teacher and stay current on your child’s academic progress and scholastic performance. I gave out my email and a personal phone number at the beginning of the year and at various other times and not one parent ever communicated through either of these modes. Ideally, I would like to talk with each of my parents at least once a month. Typically, special education teachers have a smaller caseload than their general education colleagues. I may be stepping into murky water with this comment but there should be no excuse why a teacher can’t make time to communicate with a parent if given ample opportunity to do so that works with the schedules of both teacher and parent.

3.  Ask Questions!

Especially at the IEP. So many times, I feel like parents are lost in the educational jargon during the IEP’s and parent-teacher conferences. The decisions made at these meetings are part of a legal process that directly effects your child’s education. The impact is HUGE! On our part, it is the role of the teacher’s and educational staff to ensure that parents are comfortable at these meetings and understand the proceedings. However, don’t be bashful and SPEAK UP even if it is for the smallest thing. I encourage you to read the paperwork and understand what you are signing.

4.  Check your child’s backpack daily!

Oh, I can’t tell you how many times I have worked hard at creating a letter to keep in touch with parents or sent important information home and the child comes back the next day with the paper crumbled at the bottom of his or her school bag. This includes Friday Folders if your child has one. I had a parent pick up a student and I watched as they opened the backpack, took out the Friday Folder, and dumped all of it’s content into the trash! Oh gosh, my heart was crushed as I knew there was work contained in the contents of that folder that the child was so proud of and it saddened me to know that the parent did not share in that pride. I know that life gets busy, I know that this is coming from a teacher who does not yet have kids herself, but please, please take time to look at your student’s work and be excited about their accomplishments!

5.  Continue to be the Proud Parent You Are!

Please let your child know how talented, intelligent, and special they really are; something I am so fortunate to witness every time they walk into my classroom. Even the smallest of accomplishments can be something to celebrate! Your child works hard everyday on skills that are the hardest for them – things that may seem easy to you or I may be grueling for them – recognize, appreciate, and be proud of these small successes!

Melissa Ferry
Special Education Teacher
Mt. Pleasant Public Schools

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Written on August 17, 2011 by:

Melissa Ferry is a special education teacher for Mt. Pleasant Public Schools. She earned her bachelor's degree from Michigan State University with an endorsement in learning disabilities. Melissa is continuing her education at Central Michigan University in pursuit of a Master's Degree. Prior to her career as a teacher Melissa volunteered at Friendship Circle for seven years.

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