Janae Copeland is an educator and parent of 2 daughters with special needs. As she and her husband, a school administrator, and their children prepare to begin a new school year.
A Unique Back to School Perspective
I’m an elementary music teacher in the school my youngest two children attend. My husband is also a teacher and now serves as a middle school assistant principal. He also has the unique perspective of having been a student with an IEP throughout his public-school career. Our oldest daughter, who has had a 504 plan since 3rd grade, is now an 11th grader, and our youngest daughter has an IEP. Here are truths we have learned from our unique back to school perspective.
#1: The IEP Process Is Daunting for Everyone at the Table
Before I was a parent, I participated in many IEP meetings as a teacher. It was hard understand some of the decisions and strategies discussed for students. I wanted the best for my students and if my idea of “best” didn’t match the stated outcomes, I experienced internal frustration. Fast forward and my husband and I were headed into our youngest daughter’s initial IEP placement meeting when she turned 3. We’d both been around the table before as educators, but I hadn’t anticipated the difficulty, anxiety, and emotional drain of the process as parents. I wasn’t sure we were being heard or understood. I worried about over-reacting and was concerned that the services suggested weren’t going to be enough. I was on the verge of tears and utterly exhausted. I felt immediate empathy for the parents who had been around the IEP table with me in the past, many of whom faced much deeper challenges than we could imagine,
Through this experience, I learned the IEP process is hard for the parents, for teachers, for the specialists and for the administrators. Each person comes with their own perspective and piece of the puzzle. The pieces don’t always fit easily. Some get thrown to the side, though they are pivotal to the image being created. It takes time, effort and patience to figure out the picture. If everyone at the table maintains an open mind and listens to each perspective, the pieces will come together. It will still be hard, it will still take time, and the outcomes may not match what everyone wants. But if the focus remains on the child, all turn out well.
#2: Teachers and Staff Want What’s Best for Your Child
As parents, it’s easy to walk into every school meeting feeling like you are your child’s defender in a great battle. While you are our child’s best advocate, I can assure you that the other people in the room are advocating for your child, too. You know your kid best, but educators also know your child in a different way. They see a side of your child that only an educator who spends hours every day with them can. As a teacher in my child’s school I knowing how much her teachers are invested in her success. I see first hand how they relate to my child and other students in the classroom each day. If every person involved in the child’s education approaches meetings with a mindset of mutual trust and shared goals, conversations can not only be pleasant, but also extremely productive and beneficial.
#3: Every Child Is a Special Needs Child
As cliché as it sounds, I have found this to be true year after year. There are measurable, legal difference in students considered to special needs and neuro-typical students. But, there are as many variations in these categories as there are students in each classroom. Even neuro-typical students have needs teachers have to address. Needs range from anxiety to traumas, from effects of poverty to social challenges, from parental absence to behavioral challenges. I make this point as a reminder that teachers work constantly to meet everyone’s needs. They should be given grace and support as they work to make sure your child, and every child, is successful.
As we head into the 2018-19 school year, I hope these thoughts will shape your back to school perspective. My prayer is that all special needs children and the teachers blessed to work them will have a successful and fulfilling school year!
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Janae Copeland is a wife and mother of 3 daughters. She lives in Jacksonville, NC where she is a K-5 music educator. She became a Different Dream mom when her oldest daughter, Jayda, was born in 2002 with hydrocephalus and cerebral palsy. Nine years later, her daughter Clark was born with EA/TEF and right microtia/atresia. Janae is grateful to have been entrusted with the care all 3 of her special daughters and seeks out opportunities to help other young mothers who may need support as they begin these same journeys with their own blessings from God.