By Guest Blogger Deborah Foster, retired special education teacher
“Oh, boy. I’m excited. It’s my first day to be in Mrs. Foster’s room. There’s a first time for everything, you know. I’m really nervous. I know Mrs. Foster is nice, but well, can’t I stay in my own classroom? Ok. I’ll go, but do I have to go today?”
I know these were the thoughts of students coming to my room for the first time. Most of the time they were only thoughts, but they were very strong thoughts none the less. Usually after the first day in my room, my students were excitedly ready and willing to come to my class.
One of the first and most important things I did upon receiving a new student was to make contact with their parents. I found some common understandings among the parents of my most successful students. These are things I wish all parents of special education students knew and understood, because it would help guarantee educational success for their children with unique learning differences.
1.I wish all parents understood that they are a major part of their child’s educational team. Yes. It’s team work that makes children successful in special education. If I’m ‘flying solo’ and don’t have parental support, then learning becomes more challenging for students. Having a strong, consistent communication system with parents in place is essential for a successful special education program. Students become more cooperative and successful when they realize that their teacher and parents are ‘talking’ to each other. In addition, it is helpful when parents ask numerous questions. I know you’ve heard it before, but it’s true. Teachers are busy. If parents ask no questions, then we assume the parents have all the info they need to be part of the team. If there’s something you don’t understand, just ask!
2.I wish all parents would ask questions to gain a clear understanding of…
Their child’s unique learning differences. Most children in special education are not being lazy, inattentive, or defiant when they have difficulty learning a concept or practicing and strengthening skills. They have some kind of learning challenge that makes tasks that are easy for other students, difficult for them. As a parent, it is important that you understand exactly what those differences are, and it is important that you ask questions of your child’s teacher or diagnostician until you do.
Their child’s unique learning strengths. Yes, in addition to learning differences and challenges, all students in special education have learning strengths. Parents can be an integral part of the learning team when they use a skill that their child is strong in to help them learn things that are challenging. Again, this requires good communication and lots of questions asked by the parents so that they can gain a clear understanding of their kiddo’s strengths.
How to help their child at home. Sometimes it is just a matter of finding the right strategy/method, to use with our specially challenged kiddos that will make learning at home fun and easy. If a particular method is not working well at home, ask, ask, ask your child’s teacher for other ways of practicing skills and reinforcing concepts. I promise you. Teachers have many learning ideas, and they will be happy to share them with you.
3.I wish that parents would join the teacher in building an “I can learn” mindset in their child with learning differences. By the time a child has been placed in special education, they have experiences many educational failures. They have failed spelling tests, and math tests, and state mandated tests, and probably they have even failed and repeated a grade. Many kiddos arrived in my room with an “I can’t learn because I’m too ‘dumb’” mindset, When parents and I joined together and worked on rebuilding their child’s self esteem, “I can’t” soon became “I can”, and success became achievable.
When parents and teachers join hands with each other and with their child, strengths become stronger, challenges are overcome, and an “I can’t” mindset is transformed into “I can”. The successful kiddo is the real winner here, but I must admit that the parents and teacher feel pretty good too!