Whether you are a working mom, single mom, stay-at-home, or homeschooling mom, one thing is for sure… you find out quickly that you cannot rely on your own strength to provide for your children and family. Being a mom to six children while working full-time as a teacher and working towards another degree, I have often found myself calling on friends and neighbors to assist me in my carpooling/cruise director duties. Making sure that they all are provided for and feel loved is a tough calling. However, it is a calling I will answer every time. Three of my children are from my heart and three are from my stomach. Of the three that are from my heart, one is domestically birthed and the other two are from China. Each one is unique and was individually created by God for a specific purpose.
Each of my children requires a different need and/or different barrier to be addressed in order for them to successfully learn in school. One child is from China and spent the first two years of his life in an orphanage. Another child requires speech language services in order to articulate certain sounds. Another child has recently lost her birth order and is adjusting to sharing her older sibling with another older brother. Another child, from my stomach, has finally met his twin that God sent from my heart. Our oldest child struggled with the adjustment of having five little ones constantly begging for attention.
Our older son, adopted from China, was profoundly deaf and knew zero language when we met him. In our year and a half with him, he has received a cochlear implant and is learning to speak and sign. Due to his limited vocabulary and limited educational experience, the school that he attends decided he needed to be held back one year in order to meet his unique language needs. There are things that were initially decided for us that I had to challenge. Those challenges were easier for me to challenge, because, as a teacher, I knew my rights and my child’s rights.
It is my hope to empower you to be the voice for your child. Educators are part of their village, and we need to how to best work together.
Here are six things you need to know in order to advocate effectively in the public educational forum:
• Lau v. Nichols. This was a court case pertaining to ELLs where Chinese immigrants sued the school system in California in the 1970s. According to case law, the court decided that “there is no equality of treatment merely by providing students with the same facilities, textbooks, teachers, and curriculum; for students who do not understand English are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful education. Imposition of a requirement that, before a child can effectively participate in the educational program, he must have already acquired those basic skills is to make a mockery of public education.” Teachers HAVE to accommodate instruction AND assessments in order to effectively remove the language barriers present in the classroom. What does this mean to you? Ask your child’s teacher what accommodations they have used to help your child in their daily lessons and on tests. If they show just two or three accommodations, ask what else they have tried since clearly that isn’t working to remove barriers. Also, you can not simply accommodate tests because it will be meaningless to the child if the lessons were not also accommodated.
• Read the IELP. if your child is an English Language Learner. The IELP is an individualized educational language plan. For every child that needs services as an English Language Learner, I wish their parents truly understood that your child cannot fail unless the teacher has proof that every accommodation on the IELP classroom accommodations page was implemented in the classroom environment. If they do not have the documentation, then they do not have a legal leg to stand on.
• Know the standards. Every educator is teaching standards in their classroom. In order to advocate for your child, you need to be aware what the teacher is supposed to be teaching. For example, in our state of Alabama, we go to www.alsde.edu to find standards by content and grade level. Every public school must follow the standards that are outlined, and grades should be a reflection of whether students know the standards or not. Behavior is not standard and can not be measured on any formative assessment. Therefore, it should not be assessed by a teacher.
• Email, email, email. In the world of education, documentation is your friend. When emailing teachers or school employees, always select the option of “read receipt”. If you have an outlook account, it is very easy to find in the “tools” tab. This receipt can be your documentation that you sent communication and when it was read. Make sure you are aware of how long they wait until they respond, especially if your child has an IEP.
• Teachers often just don’t know! Most of them are not trying to be malicious, they just do not have the training on trauma, reactive attachment disorder, ELLs, etc. Furthermore, most of them are under so much stress and are overwhelmed themselves. I want to encourage you to extend grace to them. Give them resources – through email- and keep an open dialogue with them-through email. Keep in mind, most of them are educators because they answered a calling. They themselves are lifelong learners and want to continue to grow and perfect their teaching practice. Your agency that you adopted through often has resources to assist you in assisting the schools. In addition, here on No Hands But Ours, under each specific special need, you can find links to resources to share with them for different special needs.
• You are not in this alone. It took a village to get you this far, so do not embark on this part of the journey alone. There are advocacy groups online, on Facebook, and in your community. Find one that aligns with your child’s unique needs and get involved. This is not an “in addition to what you already do”. This is something you can do to enhance your practice as an advocate. Other people have had similar journeys and they want to help you. On occasion, I have called upon other moms to give me ideas about accommodations to suggest to the school or even specialists in the area who could attend IEP meetings with me. Build your village and include people who God equipped with specific talents and skills that can assist you.
My village is quite a motley crew. I know who to call when I get the odd call from school telling me one of my children’s shoes has broken and they need another pair. Yet, I know who else to call when I need to get a child to a doctor’s visit and do not have time to wait in the front office for them to “find” where my child is due to him being pulled for various services. Most importantly, I know who to call when I need help advocating for my child.
It’s not always easy to think with clarity when you are at the IEP team meeting as a parent. As a teacher myself, I have sat in many IEP meetings. However, when I am at that table as mom, it all changes, and I find myself agreeing with anything and everything they say. It takes me a day or two to fully process the entire dialogue. For that reason, I encourage you to build your own village! Build your village with people who will make you more knowledgeable and empower you to be an effective advocate for your child’s academic needs.
– guest post by Maryann