Thursday, September 5, 2013

School Issues: Teachers & Administrators Set the Tone

Three weeks ago I was in a panic about the new school year.  My 15 year old son, Gabe, was starting his second year of high school and his first year nearly killed us.  Gabe has autism and worked hard to catch up to his peers, integrate into the typical classrooms and become part of the school community.  I have worked closely with his teachers over the years to help him succeed.  Many times it meant pushing him more than we thought possible.  Sometimes Gabe did the pushing, sometimes his teachers and often I did.  Through it all we worked as a team.

Until late middle school and high school that is.

Prior to his freshman year, the school administrators said we would have a transition planning meeting and work together to ensure his success in the new building.  That meeting never happened and the meeting they did have to review his three year evaluation was held when my husband and I said we could not attend.  Last year, we had many meetings with the school and many emails and phone calls. None of them seemed to accomplish anything. In fact, the more I requested information the less information I received. My requests for meeting notes were ignored.  My requests for spring planning meetings were ignored.  My request for a different IEP holder (special education teacher) was ignored.

Last year, it was just two weeks into the school year when it was evident that many of Gabe's teachers did not understand him or how to help him learn.  I tried to help and was pushed away first by the school and then by my son. A teacher called me and told me I just don't understand how her classroom works and what is possible for her to accomplish.  She didn't feel she could or should check student comprehension of her lectures.  I do know her classroom and had been her substitute teacher many times.  My older son had been in her class the previous year.  I also know what I do as  a substitute teacher and that in that short time I can make sure students are on task and check their notes by walking around the room frequently.

Shortly after that phone call my son would no longer tolerate any help from me.  He had meltdowns as soon as I asked him any questions about school.  He stayed up all night frantically trying to finish his homework.  His biology teacher told the class that failure and success is totally their responsibility.  If they fail, they will never get into college or have a good job.  Gabe takes everything literally and trusts the teachers word as being the absolute truth.  He pushed me away when I tried to explain that the teacher also has a responsibility to teach in ways that students understand.  That was the last conversation we had about school for many months.  After that, anytime I tried to talk about his homework or classes, he pushed me away.  If I pushed, he had a meltdown.  His behavior reverted and we saw behaviors that had not been seen in years.  His rigidity returned.

I tried to get his classes changed.  Too late.  I tried to get the teachers to understand how his mind works.  We had a big meeting in November with all his teachers.  Those teachers who actually take time to teach praised Gabe and said they enjoyed having him in class.  The rest seemed to be discussing a different student.  At one point, I requested that the teachers make sure he corrects his homework and tests.  How can he study for exams with incorrect answers?  One teacher refused to do this saying it is up to him to find the correct answers.  If he could do that he wouldn't have missed it in the first place.

At the IEP meeting we had to write into it that the teachers will teach him.  If homework is started in class, it will be checked to make sure he is starting correctly.  Teachers will make sure he understand the material.  This didn't always happen.  One day he came home.  I had gotten an email from his resource room teacher saying he finished all his math in her class.  I looked at it.  Every problem was done incorrectly.

I wanted Gabe to write his assignments in his planner and have it initialed by each teacher.  This way he would know what is required and become comfortable asking for clarification.  Some said they didn't want to single him out by asking him to do that.  As a sub, I had often initialed planners of special ed kids.  It was not a big deal to them or their classmates.  Some non-special ed kids did it because their parents required them to do it.

It is now the third week of school.  Gabe has settled nicely into the schedule I revamped with the guidance counselor.  His new IEP holder arranged a meeting with all his teachers during the second week.  He quickly turned it into a full fledged IEP meeting since that was due in a month anyway.  I was very nervous about the meeting.  The principal had not been very nice to me.  My husband said I could skip it and let him and my father handle it.  No way.  I have never missed an IEP meeting and wasn't going to be too intimidated to go now.

Gabe's new IEP holder set the tone of the meeting.  Mr. A is a very positive person and the meeting reflected his attitude.  It was a meeting unlike any other I have ever attended.  My father is a retired supervisor of special education at a large vocational school and attended thousands of IEP meetings as the school administrator.  At the end of the meeting he asked to say a few words to the group.  I had no idea what he would say.  He explained his former role in the schools.  Then he thanked everyone present for their positive attitudes and asking all the right types of questions.  He said that he was extremely impressed and it was the best IEP meeting he'd every attended.  My father does not give praise lightly.

The teachers set the tone for the year and it is going to be a good one.  We may have bumps along the way but I know Gabe can talk to them and work to resolve any issues that arise. Striving for Independence: Ways to Help Children with Disabilities Learn to Function More Indepedently eBook: Kristan Payne: Kindle Store