Normally I am the hugest advocate for teachers. During my college years, I debated big time about becoming an English teacher. I became a professional writer and editor instead. But I pretty much have an education minor. I loved those classes, and I still dream about becoming a teacher. A few years ago, I was a substitute teacher in a large school district. It was a fabulous experience.
Surprisingly, I became very frustrated with one of my son’s teachers this past week, which, incidentally, happened to be Teacher Appreciation Week. On Friday, I received yet another response email from his math teacher with yet another “reminder” that I can always look for answers on KhanAcademy.com and some other website. He also said he was sorry he couldn’t provide written teacher notes, yet again, per my son’s IEP requirements, because it would just be too difficult to do that, especially for test reviews when he’s answering random questions for the entire class.
This was his response to an email I had sent him on Thursday, informing him that my very frustrated son would be taking a math test the next day. SURPRISE! The teacher has no calendar, no way for us to plan or study ahead of time. I’m supposed to email him every week and ask. Hmmm. Well, the fact is my son needs more than one day to study for a test in his hardest subject. This particular scenario isn’t isolated; it has been our math experience since January when our son was removed from resource math because he was too advanced for it and placed in mainstream math with this teacher who’s new to the school and new to teaching seventh grade. At prior schools, he taught higher grades.
So on Friday, with all the patience I could muster but with frankness and boldness, I returned an email. And I copied the principal and other important individuals at the school. Here, in part, is what I said: “I’m wondering if you’re aware that IEP requirements are legally binding. We haven’t pushed the issue with you this year, but we really could have and probably should have. Legally, with _______ ‘s autism we could absolutely insist that you have written instructions and written notes for him for every class. Any failure to comply and it would be within our rights to sue the district. We’re not that kind of parents, but that’s how serious it is. Those who have autism are visual learners. They must have a correct visual example to refer to. Anything told to them orally is lost. It’s not an excuse. It’s the way their brains work. Unfortunately, __________has not received the required written instructions from you, though we have asked for them many times.”
I stuck to the facts. I didn’t swear or get emotional (though I was tempted). Those things never work and make any parent look like an idiot. As my son’s advocate, I have to appear to be in control–and that means I’m in control of myself first. Also, I didn’t send an epistle of an email. In total, it’s three short paragraphs. I called an IEP for next week. We’ll talk in person with everyone who needs to be involved. My husband will be there too. He always comes, and he’s an excellent negotiator.
Obviously, we’re at the end of the school year. What’s the point now in trying to resolve anything? Well, my son is an honor student. Currently, he has a failing grade in math (yet again). Each term it’s been this way, and we claw our way up to a B or A with redos. It’s been a ton of work, but we want our son to know that he can accomplish hard things and that just because a teacher isn’t complying with the rules of his IEP doesn’t mean he or us as parents can quit. We can’t and won’t let this teacher get in the way of our success. In the overall scheme of things, this teacher won’t matter to my son’s achievements. It’s a pity, really–for the teacher.
And at this next IEP, we will request to meet with next year’s math teacher before this school year ends. There will be a greater emphasis on the requirement of written teacher classroom instructions and notes. Next year, we will not budge on this. Why? Because it’s that important. What good is the IEP if we can’t ask for what our son needs? But we won’t demand unrealistic expectations, either. We’ll help the teacher to figure out ways to make this doable.
Fortunately, we’ve had a simultaneously good experience this year with a resource study skills teacher who has helped tremendously. Our son will stay after school every day until the school year ends, if needed, to pull up his grade. And this kind teacher will see him through. We’re so grateful for him. Because math is taught so differently now, my math-wizard husband isn’t sure how to tutor my son, and my math skills are . . . Well, I’m better at English. Anyway, we really appreciate this teacher’s efforts to help our son and us. He doesn’t know it yet, but we can’t wait to give him a gift card, a small token of our appreciation. Teachers like him are what Teacher Appreciation Week is all about.