November 23, 2020
Throughout my years teaching in a private school for Deaf and Special Needs children, I observed a diverse range of parental involvement in the pursuance of educational goals and services for the students. I never worked formally in a district but had many dealings with them and what I am writing about here is applicable to all schools, and to the parents, those with children presently receiving services or those whose child may qualify for them.
Everyone’s situation is different and the reasons for more or less involvement are not to be judged by anyone who hasn’t lived in another’s shoes. With that in mind, my intention here is to focus on those who tend to have less involvement, with the hope that this blog entry may move them to find their way.
For parents, again from my vantage point, on the quiet or reserved side, unsure of what to ask, subdued due to a language barrier; mostly Spanish in my experience, or all of the above, expressing their voice in support of their child was incredibly difficult.
In 1:1 meetings with them, I attempted to break down some of the walls that existed by focusing on breaking down the walls that exist between human beings. I tried to be mindful of what the parents might be experiencing and mindful of how I spoke and the words I chose. I wanted to support and encourage them to be involved and help them to understand that their input was as significant, if not more, than mine. After all, I was just another person who happened to be a teacher with some information that they, maybe, didn’t have. But they needed to know that they had the final say.
In meetings with administrators and district heads, I saw how easily these parents gave up their position of power to condition the best educational opportunities for their child. They were afraid to speak up, ignorant of what to ask, ignorant of their rights, intimidated by the language barrier and/or simply gave way to administers and teachers, believing that they knew best.
The truth is that you know your child best. By giving away their own power these parents left themselves open to whatever the school recommended and were ill-equipped to question, fight for or defend their child’s rights.
Upon being asked, “Do you have any questions?” I was disheartened to hear or see (via sign language) parents repeatedly answer, “No.” They believed that the administration had their child’s best interest at heart and entrusted the educational plan that the school and thedistricts saw fit. But sometimes the school got it wrong, yet, the parents signed off and the district approved. The end.
I have worked for and met many different school administrators. Some have been terrific and always tried their best, within the strictures of the political and bureaucratic machinery, to keep the students at the forefront of their decision making. But, like in every “business,” there were those administrators who were not meant to be managers of people and as a result, children, whose parents were not asking the right questions, fell through the cracks.
Simply stated, administrators and teachers are human too. Humans are flawed. Humans make mistakes. So, it is up to you to hold them to account; to question them. Developing a program for your child works best when it is collaborative. Be heard but listen in turn. Approach each encounter as a constructive, respectful and productive interview. School administrators, district heads and teachers are there to provide a service for your child and you. You need to feel comfortable that everything, within reason, is being offered and done to facilitate the greatest educational experience for your child.
Your job as a parent is to be as prepared to design your child’s educational plan as you would your kitchen. You would want to see designs, specs, have all of your questions answered and you’d want to approve the plans and processes used to attain the optimum result. You wouldn’t pay someone a ridiculous amount of money and blindly trust them to create your dream kitchen. It is the same for your child, and more so, because it is your child and not a room in your house.
Please don’t feel like you are alone. There are numerous resources and parent groups (online and in person) to support your journey. What you don’t know you can research. There are tremendous source materials online. You never have to leave your house! There are questions (I will provide some) listed online for free, if you don’t know what to ask. In the end, your child relies on you to be their protector. Being involved in their education is you protecting them.
Here are some helpful sites to help guide you along your path:
Peace and keep Rising!