Home > Top Ten > Top Ten: Things I’d Like To Say To My Son’s Special Education Teacher

Top Ten: Things I’d Like To Say To My Son’s Special Education Teacher

As I watched James struggle to put a hot dog inside of a bun at dinner this evening I felt another flash of irritation. When I picked him up from school today I was informed that he had had a so-so day. Aside from the usual being teased by a couple of kids in his class, he was “talking back to teachers” and exhibited a general attitude about doing his classwork, again. For those of you that don’t know James, he is terrified of authority (especially if they’re going to “tell on him” to me) so the news of his attitude problem was pretty unusual, let alone two days in a row.

Upon further investigation (and lots of promises that he wouldn’t get in trouble), it became apparent that James was feeling overwhelmed and frustrated with the lengthy writing assignments he has been given during class lately. “Aren’t you transcribing for him?” I asked his para, confused. James has very limited fine motor skills and even lower muscle tone, making writing a difficult task for anything past a couple of words. Add this to his seriously OCD tendencies of needing to erase and redo everything that isn’t just right until his hand is black with lead and writing ten spelling sentences can take well over an hour – forget trying to write a 4-6 paragraph essay.

“No, James is being asked to do his own writing and typing in the classroom,” the para informed me. Even with the laptop, which helps in some cases, James’s typing speed is “plodding” at best, so for him to organize his thoughts and type up a lengthy essay takes somewhere between a while and a week. However, when asked to dictate, his stories and logic are markedly improved without the stress of writing/typing.

The amazing modifications and accommodations that were in place last year have kind of fallen apart for fifth grade – it has been incredibly frustrating to watch, so I can only imagine how James must be feeling. And surprisingly, the person who is having the most trouble appropriately modifying his work is not the General Education teacher, but the Special Educator in the class.

So consider my Top Ten this evening me blowing off steam into cyberspace so that I can appear calm and rational when I show up at the meeting I plan to ask for, to reevaluate the work being assigned to James lately, inside and outside of class.

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Top Ten Things I’d Like To Say To My Son’s Special Education Teacher:

1) Please stop answering my questions about James’s progress with you’ve “never had a student like James before” – frankly, it’s kind of insulting and it also makes you sound like you don’t know what you’re doing. As the person who sees our child the most five days a week, we are relying on you to have an opinion.

2) Why is James expected to complete the same writing assignments as the other kids in class? Being a good reader doesn’t make the ability of writing a given – reading and writing skills are two totally separate things.

3) Why does James have to write or type his own essays when his para is willing and able to take dictation for him? As everyone has noticed, he does much better work when he is not worried about his handwriting, exhausted from the effort and trying to get it over with as quickly as possible. His fine motor skills are only competitive with other 4 year olds and his OT and PT can attest to his low muscle tone. Isn’t the greater point of writing to learn how to better use expressive language, rather than how to type or write neatly?

4) Please don’t tell me James needs to do these things on his own to be weaned from his para. Of course we want James to be independent – we’re his parents (and want him to move out someday)! But he has been assigned a 1:1 aide for many reasons, and up until this year her support helped him to improve and grow in more areas than we thought possible. We feel like you are punishing James for needing a “crutch.” If a child needed a wheelchair they certainly wouldn’t be expected to be weaned of it. Yes, we want James to be able to pack his own backpack and walk from one class to another on his own eventually. No, we don’t expect James to gain 20 IQ points and 50% more muscle tone this year – the expectation of a terrific essay written independently by James seems kind of cruel when you think about it that way.

5) Perhaps I am missing something – what is the purpose of not modifying all class and homework for James? Currently James is being asked to complete a five paragraph essay that includes a hypothesis, supporting statements and details. Would it be possible to modify his essay assignments to reading about a topic and dictating a summary paragraph to show his understanding of the subject matter?

6) I understand that state exams are approaching and the workload is intensifying to get students ready for testing. But James is exempt from said tests because of the severity of his disabilities. Wouldn’t that also exclude him from the intense amount of homework?

7) How much homework do you think James should have to do after a full day at school? Are the recent 3+ hour evenings James is assigned of reading, writing and math too much, too little or just about right?

8) What are your goals for James to accomplish this year? What important skills do you feel like James needs to learn from the assignments he has been given recently in and out of class?

9) Have you considered that the attitude and recent back talk coming from James is genuine frustration at being given too much work that is beyond his capabilities? Don’t get me wrong – James is always reprimanded for talking back to adults or acting out in class, but in some cases I sense he feels legitimately frustrated and doesn’t know how else to express himself.

10) Have you considered that James feels embarrassed when he has to tell you something is too hard, takes too long, or that he can’t/doesn’t want to do it? And that his embarrassment and frustration might only be heightened when he feels like his complaints are not being listened to or taken seriously?

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Yeah, I don’t think I’ll get all of this in during the meeting either. But it still feels good to vent.

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  1. February 2, 2012 at 9:01 am

    You should send this ahead of the meeting so she has it to think about.

    • February 2, 2012 at 9:09 am

      Actually, the principal read my post and reached out so I think that the information will be well-shared prior to the meeting – feeling cautiously optimistic.

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