I Am an Expert on My Child:
I understand that you have expertise in education, and that you may have a lot to tell me about how my child learns and behaves and interacts in your classroom. But please recognize that I have a longer view of my child's development, and that I see him in the greatest number of different situations and environments. I have been closely studying my child for as long as he has been alive. Please don't ever suggest that you know him better than I do.
I Carry Your Expertise, Too:
Wonder how other teachers have handled my child in the past? You could go through files, call around, send e-mails, try to network. Or you could ask me. I've been working with teachers and observing their techniques for as long as my child has been in school, and we've talked about what works and what doesn't. Suggestions I've made to you may well be based on the collective wisdom of those past teachers. Use me, and allow me to be useful to the teachers who come after you.
Homework Can Be Complicated:
I understand the need for homework to reinforce skills learned during the day, but please understand that after a full day of holding it together at school, my child may have a hard time refocusing for large amounts of work at home. We may also have therapy sessions and doctor appointments that eat up after-school time. If we work together, you and I, we can establish a homework schedule that works for both of us -- and strategies for making sure the homework gets turned in.
Communication Is Important to Me:
My child can't always be trusted to bring home accurate information, and there may be things that happen at home that will be important for you to know, too. Please establish an easy way for me to communicate with you, whether it's a notebook or an e-mail address or a phone number. I will try not to abuse the privilege, but so many misunderstandings can be prevented if you and I can just interact directly instead of relying on interpretations of what my child can convey.
What Happens at School Doesn't Stay at School:
Often, the stresses of the day get played out in tantrums and outbursts at home. And that's okay; I'd rather my child lose it at home, when she's safe, than in school. But don't assume that I don't want to know about problems that occur during the day, or that you're protecting me from disappointment by not sharing stories of frustrations and failures. I'm going to be dealing with them one way or the other, and the more information I have, the more I can help my child.
I'm Not Grieving:
Or if I am, it's my business. Please don't dismiss my demands for services or progress as driven by sorrow over my child's shortcomings. I'm motivated to get the best for my child just like every other parent. We may sometimes disagree on what that is, or how close to it the school is obligated to get. But I don't need your sympathy or your psychoanalysis. I need your respect and collaboration and inspiration. Just what you would want for your own child, whatever his abilities.
I'm In This for the Long Haul:
And you're not. My child will be important to you for a year, and I'm grateful for the work you will do and the changes that you will make. But the course we choose for his future in IEP meetings, and the distance you bring him toward his goals, will affect the rest of my life and the rest of my child's. That is why I have to fight for what I think is right, and why I need you to listen. I promise to listen to you as well, and give your views serious consideration. But as the largest stakeholder, I need to have the loudest voice.
I Can Be Your Advocate, Too:
I'm a fighter. Instead of fighting with you, why don't I fight for you? Let me know when you're not getting the support you need from the school district. Let me know if you need supplies that I can help provide, or if you have a project that might be funded by the school's parent organization. Let me know if there's something you'd like a parent to bring up with the school administration. There's so much we can do, for my kid and all kids, if we can just work together.
What would you like special educators to know about you, your child, and your family? Add them where you see the words "Share Your Insight" below.
Wonder what special educators would like you to know? Sue Watson, the About.com guide to Special Education, has a list of her own.