Being a Teacher Who Lives With a “Special -Needs” Child

I am the proud parent of  two children. One is a highly intelligent and academically driven young lady who looks like her mother. The other one is what some in the educational field might call “special.”

He looks like his mother as well.

Specifically, that child has Down Syndrome and needs modifications in school that help him to learn optimally.

Some may say that I am the parent of a Special-Ed, Down Syndrome child.

I rather think of being a parent of a child named Malcolm who happens to have Down Syndrome and an IEP.

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And both my kids are special to me.

I also teach high school coming into contact with as many different personalities and learning styles that can possibly be contained in overcrowded classrooms with overarching standards.

In my twenty-year career, nothing has made me more attuned and more aware of the spectrum that exists in all classrooms for learning than being a parent of a child who happens to have Down Syndrome and needs modification in school.

That includes:

  • The need to keep engaging and reengaging students.
  • The need to have individual tie with students to focus on individual work.
  • The need to allow students to engage with each other collaboratively.
  • The need to allow students to be exposed to various options for learning.
  • The need to expose students to other students’ methods.
  • The need for sufficient resources and space.
  • The need to revisit parts of the curriculum to ensure mastery.
  • The need for unstructured time spent in curious endeavors.
  • The need to offer some choices in what is pursued as far as learning is concerned.
  • The need for students to be exposed to all subject areas as each student is intelligent is multiple ways.
  • The need for students to have self-guided learning.
  • And the list goes on and on.

And in my twenty-year career, not many things have given me insight to how much schools in North Carolina have been hampered by under-funding and ill-gotten policies in allotment for teachers as going through an IEP process.

Remember that an IEP is a legally binding document. As a parent, I want to do everything for my child to help ensure his chances at success. As a teacher, I would want to be able to offer anything that could help a student. I see both sides. In an IEP meeting for my son, I am a parent. But as a teacher, I can reflect on how teachers and schools look at IEP’s.

The last IEP meeting we had for Malcolm was a great example of simple collaboration. The teachers in the room wanted what was best for Malcolm. The specialists in the room wanted was was best for Malcolm. The parents felt like they were listened to.

The people made it work. But imagine if there were more resources and time at their disposal. And does this happen at all schools? What we got in out last meeting was a way to look at Malcolm in a holistic way.

When you live with a child who happens to have special needs, you learn to celebrate tiny victories that mark moments of growth. But before you can do that you have to learn what those moments of growth really are. You have to learn how to be more “holistic” in your approach to “assessing” what is learned and mastered.

When you live with a child who happens to have special needs, you learn to not necessarily compare your child with others. Nothing could be more self-defeating. What you learn to do is to relate with other parents and teach your child to relate to others. If any comparison needs to go on, then compare what you once were to what you would like to be.

That “special” child that I live with probably has taught me more about teaching because I think that it is my job to help each student grow. If there is growth, the achievement comes.

What we have in the bureaucratic view of public education that exists in government buildings is a mindset bent on comparison, narrow in its scope, and focused on a product rather than a process. That mindset also depersonalizes students and looks at formulas to set policy on class size, resources, and what it means to have “learned.”

My child who happens to have Down Syndrome and needs modification in school could teach these people so much.

Just don’t take away from his play time.

Or his baseball hats, specifically his Titan baseball hats.

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