Does My Child Have a Good Teacher?

When I went into the field of teaching in the public schools it was after I had my three children and finished my education.  I was so excited to finally start my “dream” job and naively thought most teachers, especially those who taught students with more significant disabilities, felt the same excitement and commitment.  I have since found that this is not always the case.  Here are 9 questions you might want to ask yourself about your child’s teacher in order to ensure that your child is getting the best educational experience possible. – Lisa C. Gleeson MA SpEd.

1.  Has the teacher asked you questions about your child?  Do they acknowledge that parents are the real experts when it comes to their children? Yes, after we have taught your child for a couple of years we may know something about your child, at least when they are at school, but ultimately you are the experts.

2.  When you first meet the teacher, is he/she already familiar with your child’s IEP, prior testing and anything else they may have found in your child’s file? This is usually the first thing I do when I find out who will be in my class.  A teacher can also hunt down prior teachers to find out missing or needed information.

3.  Is he/she willing to find out more about the types of issues your child may have, medical, educational and emotional.  There are plenty of conferences out there that may benefit her/his teaching of your child and the rest of his/her classmates. School districts will often pay for all or part of conference attendance. There are websites and some great parent listservs that you can read or join.  It’s been my experience that most parents are more than happy to give you some of their hard -won knowledge.

4.  Do you feel as though you are part of your child’s educational team?  Not just around IEP time, but any time issues arrive concerning your child’s education? Speaking of IEP’s, does your child’s teacher consult you about concerns you might have in creating the next IEP?  Does he/she let you know that you can call a meeting at any time you feel one is necessary, it does not have to be annual and that it is a living document, not something set in stone?

5.  Does your child’s teacher send home a note daily or as often as possible? If your child is non verbal, you may have no idea what went on in his or her day today.  Typically I do a checklist and written notes of things that may have stood out that day.  If there are specific things you really want to know, please ask for those as well.  There will be days when you may not get a note.  For me, that usually means that the end of the day was

so busy or hectic that I was too busy dealing with my students to write the notes, but hopefully that doesn’t happen often.  Conversely, most teachers would love it if the parent would write a note when something out of the ordinary happens with their child.  Examples would be, did they sleep, did they eat that morning, was there unusual seizure activity?  Your child can’t tell me if they need extra TLC that day, I am counting on you.

6.  If your child is in a self contained classroom, does the teacher have plans on how to create inclusion times or activities. When I taught elementary school students with multiple disabilities, they all had an opportunity to have inclusion in the kindergarten classroom accompanied by a paraprofessional or myself.  As they got older I tried to choose specials that they particularly had an affinity for such as art, music, PE.  There can also be inclusion in the academic classes and reverse

inclusion and “buddies” is another good way to keep kids together.  Kids should also be included in school wide activities such as assemblies.  Of course this is dependent on each child’s tolerance.  Some don’t do well with crowds or loud noises and although a tolerance can sometimes be built up, there is no reason to make them miserable.  Kids should also be out on the playground together.

7.  Does the teacher have a good relationship with the school’s nurse?  When you work with students with more severe physical needs, the classroom teacher and school nurse often have to work hand in hand.  I work hard to help the school nurses I work with understand how my students “work” and familiarize them with one another.  School nurses are great resources for finding out information on many of the health issues your child is dealing with.school1

8.  That leads to the next point.  Do you feel as though your child is in a safe and supportive environment?  Children can get hurt at school, especially children who have seizures, sensory issues and/or other disabling conditions.  You should have the opportunity to see your child’s classroom and make suggestions regarding your child’s safety.  Of course you will have to remember that the classroom also has to be conducive to the safety and education of the other students.  Even if the classroom is safe, accidents will still happen.  We are all human, we will make mistakes, toys will be left on the floor, and children will zig when they should have zagged.  You need to be able to trust your child’s teacher to care for your child to the best of their ability, get medical care when needed and give you a call (or the nurse can) if your child gets hurt.

9.  Do you feel as though this teacher will push your child to reach her full potential? Is your child’s teacher excited by their potential?  Every child will grow and has the ability to be the best person he or she can be.  They shouldn’t be compared with each other or kept back because children with _________ (fill in the blank) can’t do that.  If your child’s teacher isn’t excited about being a teacher, they probably shouldn’t be your child’s teacher.

Would every parent I have ever worked with say yes to all those questions about me?  I would hope so, but I am sure that is not always the case.  It is definitely what I strive for but let’s face it, I am only human and would not claim that I get it right every time.  The same can be said of any teacher.  I do think, though, that if your child’s teacher is constantly attempting to achieve the above, you can have some trust that your child is in a safe and enriching environment in which he/she is encouraged to flourish and grow. What more could we hope for with any child’s education?

Written by Lisa C. Gleeson MA SpEd.

Bio:  I have been teaching students with moderate to severe multiple disabilities in public school systems for nearly 20 years now, ranging in ages from preschool to middle school.  I have attended four Angelman Syndrome Conferences and spoke at the conference in Chicago, IL.  I have had the opportunity to teach 4 students with Angelman Syndrome (two at the same time!) and many other students with chromosomal abnormalities.  My Masters degree is in Special Education with an emphasis in severe multiple disabilities and I am certified in the state of VA in multiple disabilities (adapted curriculum), intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbances and learning disabilities.