18 Things Special Education Teachers Want Parents to Know
Having a child with special needs often leaves parents with oodles of questions when it comes to their education. Does my kid need an IEP? Should I schedule regular meetings with his or her teacher? Am I doing enough to help my child in the classroom? For concerned parents, getting to the bottom of all their pressing questions can quite frankly be exhausting. We did some of the heavy lifting for moms and dads who are navigating the school system by asking special needs educators the things they want parents to know. And unsurprisingly, their answers are beyond enlightening.
Scroll through to see exactly what experienced educators from around the US have to say about their profession, and grab a notebook to take some notes along the way!
Gaining their students' trust can be difficult in the beginning.
"Developing a rapport with some of my students can be challenging at first. They don't always trust you at the beginning of the year. You must develop a relationship with them, get to know their strengths and weaknesses to help them learn how to compensate for their disability. Let them know you don't know all the answers either." — Linda Gebbia, New Jersey
They're constantly monitoring their students' progress.
"There are so many rewarding parts of my job! In the state of South Carolina where I teach, I'm required to take a lot of progress monitoring data. What that means is that I'm constantly collecting intel on my students. That being said, I get to watch them grow. Sometimes it can take a lot of work to see results, but the best part is when you see a student who has been struggling notice their own progress. When they start to see their own growth in the classroom, that's the best part for me. I love watching them get excited about learning." — Jackie Viotto, South Carolina
Remember that like any process, learning takes time.
"I always encourage parents to remember school is a marathon and not a sprint. Each day's experiences build upon each other until success is met. In order to gain the most, students have to feel comfortable which is why a lot of time is spent on emotional and social skills at first." — Kerri Pizzi, New Jersey
They want to see your kid succeed more than anything.
"Many of these kids have convinced themselves that they are incapable of learning because it takes them so much more time than others. I show them they are perfectly capable if they trust me and try. The fear of failure is often too great for kids to even put much effort into trying." — Keren Albiston, New York
There are many, many reasons a child might need an IEP.
"Students can get IEPs or 504s for a variety of reasons, such as commonly associated learning disabilities, like ADHD and dyslexia. Children can also get them for severe medical ailments you think a teacher should be aware of, like severe allergies. I think that when people realize that reasons for having a IEP/504 are so diverse, the stigma that having an IEP makes you 'dumb or different' will be far less common." — Katie Simon, New York
Remember that the first day of school is just that, one day.
"The first day of school can be overwhelming for the parent and the student, especially if the student is starting at a new school, in a new program, or with a new teacher. Just remember the first day is just that, one day. Everyone needs time to adjust. Stay positive. If there are bumps in the road, and there are sure to be, they will smooth out. Don't be afraid to reach out to your child's teacher. This lets them know you are open to communication." — Meaghann Babineau, Massachusetts
Special needs teachers are beyond passionate about their jobs.
"I became a special education teacher because in college I had a job tutoring a young girl with autism. The experience was so challenging and rewarding and I discovered I had good patience and was excited about even the smallest successes that I knew it was the job for me. I am driven to help kids succeed because I enjoy solving the mystery of how each student can be the best he or she can be. Finding the key to success is a thrill for the students, their families, and myself." — KP
They will support your kids outside of the classroom.
"One of the most rewarding part of my job is building genuine relationships with my students, where you're no longer 'just' their teacher, but actually a support system for them. I become like a secondary parent to some of my students who really want a consistent adult in their life and someone they feel 100 percent comfortable confiding in. There's nothing more rewarding than when you're sitting in the audience at their talent show or at their soccer game and you're the one that they turn to for a thumbs up!" — Courtney Hammell, New Jersey
Special education teachers work on a completely different timeline than other educators.
"Teachers in mainstream classrooms don't always have that extra time to stay on a particular topic. They have to get through the curriculum by a certain time and if your students don't get it, they have to move on to something new. This creates a domino effect which creates large gaps in students learning. A special education teacher can spend extra time on a particular topic, for example, fractions, or how to organize a paragraph. Spelling does not count, and you can use a variety of tools to help your students succeed. They have extra time on tests and projects. I know what it is like to sit in a class and not understand. I didn't want others kids to feel that way." — LG
Just because children are in a special needs classroom doesn't mean they're not smart.
"Students often think they're in my classroom because they're not smart. That's not the case at all! I always tell them it's because they learn differently and that's the truth. Most of the students I serve either have a learning disability or another health impairment (like ADHD) that impacts how they're performing academically. There's usually a difference between where their IQ is and where they're achieving on paper. Many of my students have average to above average intelligence, but are performing below where they should be. My goal is to try to catch them up." — JV
Having a mix of voices on your kid's team is a good thing.
"There are multiple people on an IEP team for a reason. Each person brings a unique perspective to contribute to the success of a child. Those opinions may differ, but that doesn't mean that person isn't also thinking about what's best for the child. Don't go into every IEP meeting with guns blazing ready to fight the school. Groups of contentious adults aren't ever going to be able to implement a plan that's best for your child." — KA
They're set on setting their students up to succeed down the road.
"I work with students at the middle and high school level, and part of that work is helping them identify what they want to do after high school. My goal is to help students gain as many skills as they can before they graduate and enter the real world, whether that is to continue their education, join the work force, or access adult services. Seeing students reach for those goals and work for what they want keeps me going to work everyday." — MB
They're usually game to answer questions about homework after hours.
"My goal is to make sure their child meets with success in school. I also want them to enjoy coming to school. I will do my best to help them learn what they need to so they can feel confident and good about themselves. I answer emails at home as well. Parents, don't struggle at home with homework or a project." — LG
Teachers truly want you to advocate for your child.
"I tell all my parents to never be afraid to advocate for your child. Sometimes I feel like parents sit in IEP meetings and look lost. I wish that parents would remember they have a say when it comes to how their child is served in the school setting. The psychologist, the speech therapist, or whoever is in the meeting with you aren't trying to talk at you, we're trying to convey what the student needs. Please don't be afraid to ask questions! We'd love to explain more things to you." — JV
Special needs educators are drowning in paperwork.
"There is so much paperwork to complete for special education. We are told to have aids and assistants help the students so we can complete paperwork or I have to get a sub to write all day. It seems like as a teacher, my time should be spent teaching." — KA
Having the chance to teach more life skills may help students down the road.
"One thing I wish I could change is more flexibility in what is taught. For example, special education students (and actually most middle schoolers!) often need more character education-based and life skill lessons that would benefit them in both school and with their peers. Because of how the curriculum is structured in public schools, it leaves little time to ever focus on developing those important character traits and life skills." — CH
Don't believe the misconceptions about special needs education.
"It's untrue that all of our students have behavior problems and won't learn. It's also not true that the special needs classroom won't cover all that is necessary to move on to the next grade. We cover everything the mainstream classes do, special education teachers just use different tools and methods to help their students." — LG
Their students can achieve ANYTHING, dang it!
"The most challenging part of teaching kids with special needs is constantly advocating to others who do not understand or underestimate what the students are capable of. I firmly believe my students are capable of everything when and if material is modified to fit their abilities." — KP