If you are the parent of a child with special needs then you know what “The Meeting” is. The meeting that we dread all year long. The meeting we lose sleep over The meeting we feel threatened by. The meeting we tend to feel we have no say in.
As a professional, I attend many of these meetings, I join the ranks of the “team” who shares with you your child’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential. The team who attempts to do right by your child despite the money it costs, the services that are available, or their diagnosis.
In addition to being a professional who attends “the meeting” I am also a parent who has to attend “the meeting”….. Which puts me in a very unique position, however, let me tell ya, when I am in attendance to “the meeting” for my son, I am not always professional. Unfortunately, I can turn into a distrusting, accusatory, and demanding person like many of you….. Now, don’t sit there and act like you don’t know what I am talking about…. Thinking to yourself, “I can’t believe she would act that way”. Well believe it, and If you have a child in special education, one who has special needs, or issues in school then you know what I am talking about.
Now, because I attend “the meeting” on both sides of the table, it has given me great insight on why parents act they way we do, and also why school staff does. So I am going to share with you what you should do as a parent in preparation for “the meeting”.
1. Complete all paperwork and return to your child’s teacher. Do not wait until the day of the conference to respond that you are coming or not. You must be considerate of their time as well. There is a lot of paperwork and planning that must take place before the meeting. Teachers and therapist must also rearrange their schedules of get others to cover their classes of students. As a former teacher there is nothing more frustrating to do all of the preparations and then the parent not show. If the time or date isn’t good, then give them suggestions as to what would be a good time for you.
2. Always take someone with you. It doesn’t matter if you suspect it will be a good and friendly meeting or a horrible one. As the parent, you will be nervous, anxious, and possibly tired. Having another person there with you will aid in remembering everything that is discussed, both the good things and the bad. If decisions need to be made, it will give you someone else to help you make those decisions. This additional person could be the other parents, a grandparent, a trusted friend, or possibly an advocate if you feel one is needed. Leave your other children at home. The child the conference is being held for should be the priority, not the baby sister or toddler brother who tagged along. You also do not want to include older siblings. Things will need to be discussed that your other children do not need to be privy too.
3. Be prepared…. Have all necessary documentation relative to your child with you. I would suggest keeping a 3 ring binder to assist in organization.
4. Provide a written copy of concerns or questions. I have found that it is often easier for me to remain composed when I have everything written down. Use this letter to serve as a reminder for the items you want addressed. Provide the team with a copy as well.
5. Remain objective. Most school faculties are in the “school business” because of their love for kids. It isn’t for the money, or for the great prestige, I promise. Although I understand it can sometimes be difficult to fully trust them, at least hear them out. Give them the opportunity to explain their side of the story. I have found that many times when the school didn’t agree with me, but I heard them out I understood where they were coming from. I may not have agreed, or liked it, but I did understand. There is much bureaucracy involved in public schools, the way money is funded, and what services are provided and why. Lots of red tape that unless you are VERY FAMILIAR with how the public school system works in your state and county you will not understand…… If you need time to think, sleep on it, or mull it over, tell them that.
6. Always remember you don’t have to sign anything at that moment in time, you can always ask to read it over, etc. Don’t feel pressured to make an on the spot decision. Would the school prefer you to do that, YES! It will keep them from having to get the team of people together again for a meeting.. Will they act somewhat put out, possibly! But it is still your right, so if you feel uncomfortable tell them you will come back at a later scheduled time when you have had more time to look over it.
7. Do not believe everything you read on the internet, list serves, or hear at parent groups. There are Federal Guidelines, and State Guidelines regarding special ed laws. State Laws can vary from place to place. Often times the law is very vague in order to ALLOW school districts the opportunity to interpret in the way they deem necessary. I have been in attendance to many conferences when parents came in with GUNS blazing with information they had gotten from the internet or from someone they thought knew it all, only to be made a fool of by the LEA (Special Ed Administrator) or someone else who was more familiar with the district and state policies than the parent was. Please do not fall captive to this. It is important to do your homework, your research, and be confident, but PLEASE make sure you know for certain what you are talking about BEFORE you go into the meeting making threats that you can’t back up.
8. Communication…. throughout the school year continue communication with your child’s teachers and staff. As a teacher, I hated it when parents I never heard from all year came in at the end of the year complaining about perceived misdeeds when I had never even met them and it was now MAY…… You will not come across as a concerned parent when you haven’t made an attempt to make communication with your chid’s teachers until the end.
9. If you don’t understand something ASK. As a former special ed teacher, I can say that special ed paperwork can sometimes be the most time-consuming, repetitive and annoying thing. Much of it again seems worthless but is required….. So if you don’t understand ask…. Also teachers sometimes get in such a “mode” from doing so many conferences we often forget that this might be the first time you have heard the information or the acronym (and Lord knows there are a ton of them). Rest assured parents, teachers are not or at least shouldn’t be offended if you ask them to explain something so don’t let fear keep you from asking.
10. Lastly, get a good nights sleep, be on time, don’t forget your medicine, and wear a smile. I have found that the more relaxed and friendly I am as the parent, the more friendly and relaxed the teachers are. The number one goal for everyone involved should be your child…… That should be the focus. Keep in mind, that it takes everyone working on behalf of your child for them to reach their greatest potential. The sooner we as parents realize we can’t do it without them, and the teachers and faculty realize they can’t do their job well with out us, things will work out for everyone.
I am sure you can add many more to this list. These are my personal opinions gained from personal experience. I would love to hear from you as to what you have learned that might help other parents in our shoes……
I will follow up this post with, Teacher Preparation for The Meeting…. So check back to see what you the teach can do to help the parent!!!!