What Your Child's Special Ed Teacher Won't Tell You

What They Know About Costs of Services and Effectiveness of Advocates

Special education teachers rarely talk to parents about the cost of services, how effective advocates are, and other matters related to special education, because at times it would be inappropriate to discuss these issues. But there are a number of things that they wish parents knew. Here's an overview of the top 10 secrets special education teachers wish you knew and how you can use the information to better advocate for your child.

1

Your Advocate Is Not Helping

Woman tutoring a child with schoolwork
Tutoring a child with a learning disibility.

Nina Shannon / E+ / Getty Images

Special education teachers and administrators will rarely tell parents when their advocates are not helping their case. Although there are some excellent special education advocates out there, there also are some who don't help and can actually make things worse for you.

Despite this fact, the special education staff usually won't inform you of the issues. Although there could be any number of reasons why they keep these opinions to themselves, here are some of the most common:

  • Believe you won't listen to them
  • Fear the advocate will use their words against them
  • See you as unapproachable once an advocate is involved

Because special education advocates are not required to be licensed, it's important that you do your homework before involving a special education advocate.

Make sure they are familiar with state and federal laws pertaining to special education as well as the policies and procedures in your school district. Ideally, a special education advocate can help you develop your child's individualized education program (IEP), including the goals and objectives, as well as explain reports and terms you may not understand.

They also should work alongside you and advise you on what services and accommodations to request. This assistance could be behind the scenes in an advisory role. Or, you may want them to attend meetings as well as be more involved in monitoring and maintaining your child's special education services.

If you are wondering how your advocate is doing and you have a good relationship with your child's teacher, ask for their feedback. Hopefully, the advocate has developed a solid relationship with the teacher and district and everyone is working as a team on behalf of your child. But if that's not happening, you need to know.

2

The Cost of Services

Special education staff will rarely tell you when they can't pay for what you're asking. The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that services cannot be denied on the basis of cost, but special educators know the federal government has never provided sufficient funds to implement that requirement.

Usually, special education staff wish you knew that they have little, if any, say in the budget process.

Knowing they can meet your child's needs in other ways, special education teachers often try to steer parents away from costly alternatives because they have to. Remember, IDEA requires schools to provide an appropriate education—not the best possible services.

3

An IEP Is Just a Snapshot

Special education teachers teach your child much more than what is on the IEP. The IEP includes specially designed instruction to address needs identified by the IEP team. Those important skills are just a small part of your child's overall program.

To the maximum extent appropriate, special education teachers and mainstream education teachers also will work on the district's core curriculum standards in addition to the IEP.

If you have questions about how else your child's educational needs are being addressed, be sure to ask. By communicating regularly with your child's educational team, you can get a better picture of your child's educational environment.

4

Mainstream Classes Are Limited

Special education teachers often agree that most children can benefit from experiences in mainstream classrooms regardless of their disability. However, some children need to be educated in an environment where there is a lower student-teacher ratio and more flexibility. Special education classrooms can:

  • Provide more one-on-one attention
  • Give your child a more private place to work on personal care skills
  • Help avoid negative comments from peers who engage in bullying
  • Provide basic skills instruction when regular education classes cannot provide it

Ideally, your child's education includes a combination of special education classes and mainstream classrooms. If you feel your child is lacking a balance between the two environments, talk to your child's special education teachers about how to accomplish this balance.

5

Providers May Not Be Helpful

Most special education teachers listen to private practitioners and evaluate the information they provide. In some cases, however, private practitioners offer suggestions that special education teachers do not agree with or cannot accommodate. Here are some reasons why they may not follow the practitioner's advice.

  • The provider's recommendations are based on opinion and not on research.
  • The provider has no experience working in a classroom situation and is making suggestions that cannot be accommodated.
  • The provider's recommendations may be inconsistent with state or local school board standards.

When evaluating how your child's team is working together, including the teachers, the administrators, and your child's health care professionals, it's important to remember that everyone has a different role.

Your child's doctor can provide input on your child's health care needs and what types of accommodations they might need, but they are not a teacher. So, they should allow the special education teachers to offer insight into the educational environment.

Likewise, your child's special ed teacher is not a doctor. So if they reject the doctor's recommendations, you need to find out why. Keep in mind that, unless you have a developmental-behavioral pediatrician, their suggestions may not be in line with state or local school board standards. But if the recommendation is something that is medically necessary and the school district or teachers are balking at providing it, you may need to get an advocate involved.

6

They Advocate for Your Child

Many special education teachers advocate for their students every day. Behind the scenes, they continually work to get the support your child needs.

Special education teachers negotiate with other teachers to get your child placed in the right classrooms and to ensure your child's needs are met. They also sometimes buy materials with their own money and use their own time studying to find better ways to help your child and the school as a whole.

To help nurture the relationship between your child's special education teachers and your family, it's important to demonstrate your appreciation for how hard they work on behalf of your student.

By building those relationships from the beginning, you are creating a foundation from which your child's education will be built. Plus, when you encounter an issue that needs to be addressed, it will be much easier to bring it up when you are already on good terms with your child's team.

7

Special Ed Teachers Are Experts

Special education teachers rarely brag about themselves. Most probably won't tell you that they have advanced degrees in their profession or that they participate in ongoing professional development. Special education teachers also won't tell you that they have the same level of training as teachers in private schools, and maybe more.

Special education teachers in many states are required to earn master's degrees. Teachers also must continue their professional development throughout their careers to maintain their certification. Many teachers are over-achievers and routinely earn more professional development hours than needed and voluntarily earn national certification, although it may not be required.

Rest assured that your child's teachers are consistently keeping their skills fresh and looking for new ways to educate and work with their students.

For this reason, it's important not to be condescending toward a teacher after doing research on your own. Most likely, they have read the same research studies you have read. The difference is that they have the experience of working with special education students on a daily basis.

However, this doesn't mean that you can't bring an idea to your child's teacher. Just be sure that you are respectful in the process and actively listen to their opinion. If you still feel strongly after you have dialogued about the situation, you can discuss the idea with other professionals, including an advocate if you're working with one.

8

They Believe Parents Are Important

Special education teachers know how critically important parents are in educating children with disabilities. All children benefit from parent involvement, and this fact is especially true for children with disabilities. Your opinions and support are vital to your child's success.

Special education teachers want and need your input and want to keep communication lines open between home and school. They also need your follow-through on things they ask you to do at home to support your child. It will take all of you working diligently to help your child with a disability succeed.


For this reason, you need to be actively involved in your child's education.

Keep the lines of communication open with the teachers and the administrators and strive to create a partnership as much as you can. If your child's teacher doesn't offer information on what they're learning at school or how you can support your child at home, be sure to ask. Having this information and then acting on it benefits your child in the end.

9

Meetings Are Tough for Everyone

Special education teachers know that many parents are uncomfortable in IEP team meetings. Meetings can be difficult for special education teachers as well. Teachers know that team members are evaluating their work as they discuss the student's progress, and this can be uncomfortable.

The number one rule for helping everyone cope with a difficult IEP team meeting is to focus on the child and their needs rather than the teacher.

Additionally, these meetings can be emotionally charged for parents as well. You can feel a wide range of emotions throughout the process including concerns over your child's progress, fears that you're not doing enough, and even grief over the loss of normalcy.

Although these feelings are valid and should be dealt with, many times the IEP meeting is not the place to do it. Be sure you have a counselor or support person who can help you understand and cope with your feelings. Having a child with disabilities can be very challenging and you need to take steps to care for yourself, too.

10

Teachers Want Your Child to Succeed

Special education teachers really care about their students and want to see them succeed. They often choose their profession because they are compassionate people who want to make a difference in the lives of children.

But, they also know they should not coddle their students. Teachers try to provide just enough support for their students to become successful.

They also know that too much support can impede a student's progress.

Special education teachers try to balance this level of support and recognize that healthy challenges are important for a child's growth. Your child will struggle sometimes, but that is a necessary part of the learning process.

Don't be afraid of failure or allowing them the freedom to make mistakes. Although it's difficult, experiencing struggles from time to time is a valuable learning opportunity. So, be sure you trust the teacher enough to allow them to challenge your student. In the end, these challenges will help your child become successful.

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2 Sources
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  1. Center for Autism Research. Using a special education advocate. Updated May 26, 2020.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. What is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician? Updated January 28, 2020.