Dear Parents of Special-Needs Children I’ve Taught In the Past,
I need to make a big apology. You see, I’ve been teaching now for fourteen years, but I have only just recently joined your ranks.
I didn’t know. Not even a clue. I thought, mistakenly, that having two special-needs children in my family made me more sensitive to your needs as a parent. It didn’t. And I’m so sorry for operating under the assumption that I did. I’m not attempting verbal self-flagellation here. I meant well. I knew a lot about autism and some about other special-needs conditions. I did care about your child. And I did want to do right by him. But, like a lot of teachers who Just Don’t Get It, I thought doing right by him meant giving him extra time on assignments and not allowing him to fail my class. I thought being extra nice and seating her at the front of the room was what you needed from me.
But you needed more. And I didn’t understand that. You needed communication. A lot of it. You needed me to understand your depth of worry. You needed me to understand that, if you’ve met one special-needs child, you’ve met one special-needs child. You needed me to understand that I was teaching your child, not an I.E.P. You needed to know, not assume, that I would go out on a limb to make sure your child’s needs were met all over the school and not just in my classroom. You needed to not worry that, when your back was turned, I was still doing everything that I promised as well as thinking of better ways to meet your child’s needs. You needed to talk about your child in meetings and not worry about the clock.
I know better now. In just a few months, I am going to be placing my special little boy into the hands of the public school system. Because he is non-verbal, I will have no way of literally knowing how his day went, if he is being treated well, and if those to whom I am entrusting his care really do care about him. This kind of fear is paralyzing. And more so because I know just how little training (read almost none) that most of the staff in a public school have in dealing with children like my son. They, too, will mean well. But they won’t know. They won’t get it. I now know why you carry The Binder of Epic Proportions to every meeting. Mine is getting bigger by the day.
I look back now at all of your children and wish that I had picked up the phone more, written quick notes home more often, challenged your child more often rather than less, and make you feel certain that someone else loved your baby in your absence. For that, I’m sorry. I promise to do better for those kids in the future. I promise to not assume anything about your child’s unique situation and needs. I won’t just react to bullying of your very different child. I will actively be on the lookout for it. I will remember your child and her possible confusion on activity bell schedule days. I will take more time each day to get to know her. I promise to do my best to push, cajole, educate, and even take to task my colleagues who don’t get it in the years to come. I pray that teacher training will improve in the future and that my son will reap the rewards of that. And I hope that I am just as patient, kind, and understanding with his teachers and schools as most of you were with us.
And those of you who weren’t? I get you too.
Your Child’s Former Teacher