You understand the great complexities of parenting a child with special needs – from the boundless rewards to the abundant challenges. Parenting journeys are hard and, perhaps, especially so for those nurturing a child with physical and/or intellectual disabilities. Well, as you might imagine, the teaching journey of special education instructors is also unique. Teaching is one of the hardest, yet fulfilling careers; and, of course, the highs and lows of this profession can be amplified when working in an inclusive or special education setting.
Sadly, there’s a staffing shortage within the essential profession of education. And, according to findings by the Learning Policy Institute, the turnover rate among special educators is nearly twice as high when compared to teachers leading typical classrooms.
As a parent of a child with special needs, you’re likely used to advocating for others. So know that you can make a real difference by also supporting your child’s special education teacher. This positive effort can stimulate a meaningful trickle-down effect on your children, their peers, their families and the community-at-large.
Here are ten simple, yet effective ways to support your child’s special education teacher:
It seems like traditional textbooks are being replaced more and more with tablets and other digital tools; but know that an old-school binder—for you, not your kiddo—is still a necessity. With IEPs, 504s and tons of supporting documentation, you’ve likely got a pretty tall stack of papers building up, right? Keeping such paperwork organized in a Parent Planning Binder will be of use for you and your child’s special education teacher, especially if and when a question or concern regarding your child’s education arises.
Update As Needed
If your child had any testing or therapy during summer break, obtain records and reports from relevant providers. Provide copies (either electronic or paper) to your child’s teacher, school and/or school district’s special education office. This may help special educators help more effectively customize lesson plans for your little learner.
Meet and Greet
Shortly before or after the start of the new school year, request either a face-to-face or virtual meeting with your child’s special education teacher. Standard open-house meet-the-teacher events typically aren’t sufficient when it comes to the parent-teacher relationship aligned with students with special needs. Just as you do, teachers want to see your child succeed in- and outside of the classroom. As a parent, you can offer invaluable insight into some of the key factors that unlock your child’s learning potential. Knowledge is power… and, since you know your child best, share what you know to kick-start a successful school year.
Confirm Communication Methods
Establish what form of communication is best for you and your child’s special education teacher to stay connected – email, text, phone, app, etc. Also, decide if and when a regular touch-base should occur.
Volunteer at Your Kid’s School
If you have the time and flexibility, consider volunteering at your child’s school. Does your child’s teacher need help with classroom preparations, like copying or updating bulletin boards? Or do you have a special skill that could be of use, like designing a newsletter or tackling the logistics of a field trip? Special educators (and all teachers) have so much on their plate these days and can use the helping hands of parent volunteers.
It’s common to assume that teachers have access to basic classroom resources, like crayons, pencils and paper. But that isn’t always the case. According to a survey by AdoptaClassroom.org, more than half of educators reported that one of the biggest challenges their students will face this school year is not having access to the basic learning materials they need. Teachers often close the gap themselves! In fact, a new report revealed that the average teacher spends $820 out-of-pocket on their classrooms every year. And, because additional resources are incorporated into special education classrooms, teachers instructing students with disabilities may devote even more of their personal budget. You could help by:
- Coordinating a Teacher’s Amazon Wish-List so families and the community-at-large can help stock your child’s special education classroom with resources.
- Join Staples’ Classroom Rewards program to earn 10% back in Classroom Rewards on in-store purchases to give to your local special education teacher or school, plus up to 5% back in Staples Rewards.
- Explore donation options for your school and other schools nationwide at AdoptaClassroom.org.
From mugs to embroidered totes, teacher gifts are totally appreciated. But displaying genuine gratitude doesn’t have to break the bank. Try sending a handwritten or typed thank you note via snail mail; and, do some unexpectedly (meaning beyond the holiday season or Teacher Appreciation Week). Better yet, email a message of praise to your child’s teacher and copy the principal so he/she gets to see how much your child’s teacher is adored. The goal is to simply remind your child’s teachers that they matter, you acknowledge their dedication and you understand how impactful their personal effort is to your family and countless others.
Keep Emotions in Check
Navigating the world of special education can be emotional. As a parent, always strive to remain respectful when advocating for your child during IEP/504 meetings, parent-teacher conferences, PTO meetings and beyond. When advocating for your student, you don’t have to shout to be heard.
Follow Through on Your Partnership
Because you expect your child’s special education teacher to follow an appropriate set schedule in the classroom, offer the same level of consistent support at home. Establish healthy habits for brain-boosting meals, restorative sleep and comfortable homework stations.
Attend School Board Meetings to Voice Support
Are your local teachers battling for fair wages, increased school funding and/or other issues? Let your child’s educators know that you value them and that you support them!
Want more content like this? Read:
- Donate Used Crayons to Support Children with Disabilities
- Interested in Becoming a Special Education Teacher? Here are the Best Online Special Education Bachelor’s Degrees
- Are Disabled Students More Vulnerable During School Shootings?
[Originally published by AmeriDisability on September 7, 2022; Updated August 10, 2023.]