Parents are not the only ones who have emotional reactions to things that happen in the special education process. Special education is a very complex undertaking that involves a lot of people, each with his/her own perspective.
Teachers and related service providers (speech-language specialists, occupational therapists, etc.), being in the trenches as it were, are the people most in a position to see the educational impact of a child’s special needs first-hand. What they don’t know can hurt a child.
Parents who jump to blaming teachers and providers without considering all of the factors that these professionals have to deal with, however, don’t help the situation. That isn’t to say that teachers and providers are without responsibility and shouldn’t be held accountable. But, things have to be done the right way.
There’s usually a whole lot more going on behind the scenes beyond the control of the teachers and related service providers that parents don’t know about or understand. Many parents may look at teaching and professional staff, as well as school site administrators, as having a lot of say in how things go down, but the truth is that their effectiveness is also influenced by internal agency politics that start at the top of the agency’s administrative hierarchy and trickle down into the classroom through bureaucratic channels.
What teachers and related service providers are prevented from doing by the internal politics of the agencies they work for can also hurt a child, and most teachers and providers who find themselves in these kinds of circumstances are sickened by them. I’ve spoken to many people over the years who left the teaching profession because they were unsupported by their administrations, were denied the tools they needed to teach all of their students (particularly those with unique learning needs), and were told not to say anything to parents or make waves lest they find themselves unemployed. This is entirely unacceptable on a variety of levels, not to mention unlawful.
In many of the difficult instances I’ve seen, teachers and related service providers have not been properly trained on what to do and/or have had critical resources withheld from them by the powers that be. When parents understand that teachers and service providers are usually jumping nervewracking hurdles within their agencies behind the scenes, a more constructive and collaborative way of working together can be developed and the professionals can come to regard the parents as resources rather than additional obstacles.
Teachers and related service providers, like parents, need to check their emotions at the door when it comes time for meetings with parents and co-workers. I once attended an IEP meeting for a little girl who was being raised by her single dad and the little girl’s teacher, as it turns out, had a mad crush on the dad. This same teacher was actually a pretty decent special education teacher in terms of her caring for her students and how effectively she communicated with them. But, the school district she worked for had trained its special education staff incorrectly on how to write IEP goals, resulting in IEPs filled with nonsensical gibberish.
The exasperated father kept going back to her asking for clarification, which she was more than willing to oblige, and calling new IEP meetings to better describe the goals without really getting anywhere productive. As a professional person, he knew what kind of standards he was held to when it came to goal-setting and he just couldn’t fathom his daughter’s IEP goals.
I wrote a letter to the district explaining why the goals were completely unacceptable and an IEP meeting was again called to address the goals. He and I went to the IEP meeting where this teacher, who had tried so hard to please this frustrated parent using the knowledge and information she had, bawled uncontrollably throughout the IEP meeting.
The teacher took the parent’s hiring of advocates to address the goals she had written as a personal attack, despite the fact that the real failing was in the way the district had trained her to write the goals and not something that we’d ever blamed her for specifically. Her sense of rejection was only further amplified by the fact that part of her motivation in working so hard with this parent was because she was attracted to him and, clearly, if he had hired a quasi-legal representative to respond to her efforts, her affections were not?being returned. It was one of the most uncomfortable IEP meetings I’ve ever attended.
That certainly doesn’t happen to me every day. But, I’ve gone to a number of meetings where teachers or service providers were defensive, rude, condescending, and inappropriate because they were bad people doing bad things. I went to a meeting once where a mean and nasty speech-language pathologist had produced a very poor assessment report on behalf of the district that failed to include any subtest scores, making it impossible to see whether the child had demonstrated subtest scatter (subtest scores that are not close together, indicating relative strengths in some areas and deficits in others, as opposed to the subtest scores more or less being about the same regardless of the areas tested). When I asked for the subtest scores, she sneeringly advised that she couldn’t provide them because she had shredded the assessment protocols (the booklets in which the student’s actual answers and scores are recorded). Shredded them!!!
In California, unlike many other states, assessment protocols are considered part of a student’s records and, therefore, must be maintained as such (meaning that parents have the right to copies of them). Here, the assessor had destroyed a protected student record and for what She couldn’t prove that she had properly administered and scored the assessments in addition to the fact that she couldn’t really show how the child had performed on them.
On behalf of the parents, I immediately disputed her results and asked for an independent educational evaluation (“IEE”), which is basically a second opinion by an outside assessor not employed by the education agency, at public expense.? The only way the district could have turned down the request would have been to take the family to hearing to assert the appropriateness of its assessments, which it couldn’t do because the speech-language pathologist had shredded the evidence. The district sensibly agreed to the IEE.
The thing I hope you take from this posting is that teachers and service providers are people too. Parents and administrators need to understand this but nonetheless expect the utmost ethical conduct from teachers and providers as well as a legitimate interest in learning whatever they can to make sure their students receive meaningful educational benefit.
Teachers and providers need to understand that protections are in place (see our first posting of November 11, 2008) to prevent them from being retaliated against by their employers for doing what they think is right by their students with disabilities. Administrators need to be sensitive to the feelings of pressure they may be inadvertently placing on teachers and providers to say and do things that betray their moral judgment. This is the kind of thing that leads to teacher burn-out and prompts service providers to leave public education and go into private practice.
Teachers and providers need to have confidence in their own voices and insist that they be provided with the training and supports they need to do their jobs well. Disenfranchisement is the usurper of success and depriving our children of success is an unacceptable outcome for us all.