Engaging In Your Child’s Education

It’s that time of year again! Kids are back in school and there’s plenty of things to be anxious about as a parent. For us, the big one this year is that this is Max’s first year at middle school. He no longer has his elementary special education teacher and her classroom as a safe place to retreat to when things go sideways. He has to make it to classes on his own, has harder course work, has to deal with adolescence happening all around him, and he has to exhibit a ton more responsibility than before. Luckily we have it pretty dang good. The most important person in his life outside of Jamie and I is there – his big sister Maci. And beyond that, the school and staff have been over-the-top accommodating for us and Max. And the staff love him. Yes, we have it pretty good.

So it’s a big reminder for me to encourage other parents. Education is like a big party that everyone is going to. You have a few options. You can go, drop off your bean dip and leave. You can go and sit in the corner the whole time and just watch. You can go, have way too much to drink, and pass out into the cake ruining everything. Or… You can go early and be helpful with setup, engage with everyone at the party, be a joy to be around, put others first, recognize those who are hosting the party and thank them for their hard work, then stay late for clean up.

You can probably guess which method I’m going to encourage.

As a parent with a child in the special education program, we’ve had our fair share of IEP meetings and conferences. The one thing we always hear from the educators are “thank yous” for being present, being engaged, and taking a roll-up-your-sleeves approach to having a child in the public school system. It shocked me at first. Why wouldn’t we do those things?!? It’s our kid! But apparently, not every situation is like that.

One of the frustrating things we’ve heard over the years is this notion that some people drop their kids off at school with a “fix my kid” mentality. I don’t understand this. These are our kids we’re talking about here. They are OUR responsibility! If we think that our tax dollars are going to pay for someone to “fix” our kids, we’ve failed.

Whether your kids are at a private or public school, you need to remember one primary thing. Your kids’ teachers are your PARTNERS. They are NOT the local handyman. Their passion is to see growth and development in children. They are so passionate about it that they work ungodly hours throughout the school year for chump change.

So roll up your sleeves and be a good partner!

One of the first things you should do is get to know your child’s teacher. Figure out what makes them tick, and what drives them nuts. Ask them what they like in their coffee and bring them one occasionally. Ask them what they do on the weekends. When you remove your needs from the initial agenda and simply get to know them, all the future discussions about your child’s needs will be much easier.

Before discussing any of your needs at all, ask first how you can help with anything THEY need. And be sincere about it. Stick around and help out. Put in some time. Show the teachers you’re not just one more parent in the system. Be different.

You see, it’s stressful being a teacher. Yes, it’s stressful being a parent of an autistic child or other similar situation. But imagine if 20-30 young children sat down in front of you, all from different cultures, with different rules at home, different needs, and all of them were looking to you to learn, grow, and develop. The last thing in the world you would want is for a crazy, stressed out mom to show up with her child and immediately start telling you all the quirks that little Johnny has and all the special accommodations you need to make for him.

Imagine now if it went the other way. Crazy, stressed out mom shows up, and this time rather, she says to you, “Wow, I’m freaking out here! But how are you doing? You have to wrangle all 25 of these cute little buggers! That must be nuts! I applaud you for the hard work you’re putting in to love these kids and being instrumental in their learning. Do you need my help with anything? I’m free these hours of these days and will drop everything if you need me. We can talk about Johnny’s quirks once you’ve had a chance to settle into the new year.”

How much more receptive would you be be to the second scenario? Well, that’s your child’s teacher.

So go easy on them as we all start a new year of school. There will be plenty of time after you get to know them to go over all the nitty gritty details about your child. And remember, they are not the handyman. They are your partner. You still have to do the heavy lifting. But they are professionals that are passionate about what they do. Let them do their job. Once you establish a meaningful rapport, you can start to discuss the plan for your child. When you set out on the right foot this school year, I promise it will be better.

To all the educators that have had an impact on both our children, you know who you are. We love you. We love your passion, and we love that you love our kids. Thank you. Not sure what we’d do without you.

Chad Youngquist

For an interesting approach to communication with autistic kiddos, see this post.

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