Learn Your Special Education Laws, Special Education Rights, and Share IEP Goal Ideas

Jun 27
Profile photo of Morgan Kolis

by Morgan Kolis

How often have you read articles, blogs, or tweets where the special education teacher appears as the bad guy?  The special education teacher has an alternate agenda or makes a plan without the knowledge of the parents? The IEP team excludes the parents as part of the team? 

Too many articles and blogs point to the special education teacher and make him/her appear as an enemy to the parents of the child with special needs. 


But there are some secrets that your special education teacher wants you to know: 

Secret #1-  NO ONE becomes a special education teacher to hurt kids.

Becoming a special education teacher is a calling.  It’s not a “job,” but a lifetime commitment.  Most special ed. teachers LOVE kids and want the best for their students.  Remember, your child’s special ed. teacher likely spends at least 6 hours a day with your child. He/She knows your child.  Likely, she works at least 6-7 more hours a day thinking about what’s best for your child.  

Secret #2-  NO ONE becomes a special education teacher to fight with parents.

Sure, there are disagreements.  No one is going to agree 100% of the time. But, the special ed. teacher is not looking for an argument.  He/she is working on the best plan for your child. And, it’s true that there are times that the teacher also has to work within district budget constraints and directives, but none of us are looking to fight with you. 

Secret #3-  NO ONE continues to be a special education teacher because it’s easy.

IF any person went into special education because they thought it was going to be an easy job, they surely did not stay in the field of special education.  Being a special ed. teacher is hard.  It’s hard work. It’s a 12-18 hour a day job. But, it’s also a choice.   

Secret #4-  Your child’s special education teacher respects you.

Believe it or not, your child’s special ed. teacher respects you as a parent of a child with special needs.  He/She likely cannot imagine what your life is like, what you deal with, or what it feels like to be a parent of a child with special needs.  For these reasons and more, there should be a mutual respect for both parents AND teachers. 

Secret #5- Special Ed. teachers believe that the parents are an imperative part of the IEP team.

An IEP cannot be written without your help.  An IEP cannot be put into place without you.  A change of placement cannot occur without you. Your child’s needs drive his/her services, but we need to know what you believe his/her needs are.  I might feel your child has mastered coin counting, while you know that, when trying to pay for fries at McDonald’s, your child was clueless.  We need YOU. 

Now that you know all of our “secrets,” what can you do the help cultivate your relationship with your child’s special education teacher? 

First, communicate with your special education teacher.  Send emails, respond to tweets, read blog posts and comment.  If your teacher sends you an email, respond.  If the teacher asks you a question, she isn’t trying to be nosy, she genuinely wants to know how she can help or what she can do better for your child.  Answer your teacher’s phone calls or respond to her voice mails.  Tell your teacher everything she needs to know about your child.

Second, if you are happy or unhappy about an event, lesson, paper, or situation, express it directly to the teacher.  Don’t try going around the teacher before speaking to him.  Your principal knows what’s happening in the classroom, but not to the extent that the teacher does.  Plus, it could be a simple mistake. Give your teacher the benefit of the doubt. 

Third, make suggestions with care.  We can all improve, we can all get better. We can all be more knowledgeable.  We can all communicate better.  But, we’re still human and we are trying our best.  Make your comments with care, and we will do the same. 

Lastly, remember we are team members that care about your child.  Often times, we love your child.  We are your team member, not your enemy. 


Short Author Bio: Morgan Kolis has been a special education teacher for 8 years, working with students with mild/moderate and moderate/intensive special needs.  Morgan currently teaches at Hilton Elementary School in the Brecksville-Broadview Heights Schools in North East Ohio.  She has received numerous awards including the 2010-2011 Plain Dealer Crystal Apple and the 2005 Cleveland Cavaliers’ Head of the Class Teacher Award.  She also has a Masters’ degree in Educational Technology.

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11 Responses to “I’m NOT Your Enemy: Secrets from Your Child’s Special Education Teacher”

  1. Yes! Excellent article! Thank you for this! I have always thought that my sons’ teachers were a part of a team – our team. And because of them and with them, we’ve made great strides towards the childrens’ futures.
    I wrote about our IEP experience here: http://angelgosselin.blogspot.com/2011/06/get-down-with-iep-yeah-you-know-me.html

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  2. Thank you so much for this post! Exactly how I feel!

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  3. As a parent I have always prided myself on not being what I like to refer to as a “bridge” burner. I taught general ed kinder for several years before quitting to care for my own special needs child and when there was discourse among a parent and I, it was hard to do what was best for the child. I can only imagine it is exponentially so for the special education teachers.

    Now, that being said, there are always rotten apples in the bunch, and I’ve had my share of teachers who i thought not only did not do their job very well, but who should never have gone into Special Ed in the first place.

    Which brings me to my next point. I agree that it’s a calling. So if you wake up each day dreading going to work and give only a small fraction of yourself to this very difficult and very important job, it’s time to GET OUT and find something new to do.

    For your sake, but more importantly, for the sake of my child, and others like him.

    Great piece. Thanks!

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  4. Thanks for all the wonderful comments so far. This is my first piece for Special Education Advisor, and I wasn’t quite sure how it would go over.

    If you are interested, I also blog at http://staff.bbhcsd.org/kolism and http://mlkolis.blogspot.com.

    Thanks for your comments and RTs. :)

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  5. The first of many, we hope!!!

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  6. I understand your sentiment. I only wish it was always true. My son and I have had different experiences. The most important thing to remember is that these teacher are people. Sometimes they are tired, frustrated, sad, constricted by rules and school administrations. Unfortunately sometimes this comes through in the interactions with a student or a parent. I value the position of a teacher, but sometimes it just isn’t working. It happens in my job world, why not in the teaching career? Sorry to be negative, but it is my reality.

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  7. Hi Cindy,

    I can certainly understand this. Thanks for mentioning this- Yes! Teachers are PEOPLE. It’s true. We go through hard times just like everyone. And, it’s a struggle sometimes to complete our job, just like for anyone in any field.

    For me, I know it isn’t that hard to enjoy being with the kids. Even on my worst day in my personal life, I would come to work, because our kids… they can make even the worst day, better! Our classroom is the place to be for smiles, laughs, and hugs.

    But, I believe you are right. Special Ed. teachers should/hopefully can recognize when things aren’t working. It may take someone outside the classroom to provide some suggestions, make some changes, provide some training, provide some inspiration, or help change the teacher’s philosophy. And hopefully the teacher has a strong enough support system to make these changes.

    It won’t always be perfect, but hopefully it won’t always be a battle either. :)

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  8. I’ve been a special ed teacher for 13 years and am also a parent of a child with special needs. This is true for SOME special ed teachers. However, I’ve been around the block enough to see that SOME teachers are only out to reduce their workload. They will fight with parents to prevent from having to do anything that might affect their schedule or work load. They whine and complain about a new kid because he doesn’t quite fit schedule that they have in place. They refuse to do inclusion, because they don’t want to leave their classroom. I’ve met some pretty disgusting people over the years. We’ve moved a lot, so it isn’t just in one state.

    I’ve butted heads with one of my son’s teacher because I knew that they should be doing something and they downright refused to do it. Funny how a thrid party came in and the same person starts backpedaling.

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  9. I have almost never seen people blame the special ed teacher, usually the administrators are the problems in any IEP’s I have participated in or read about. I have had four kids in special ed and have had serious complaints about only two of their teachers – valid complaints – but out of the 14 full-time and several more teachers that only worked with one of my kids for a class or two in Jr and Senior high that isn’t bad. Teachers who actually help in an IEP meeting are few and far between though, around here they would set themselves up to lose their job or to endure torture for stating the truth.

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  10. Anna said on May 28, 2012

    I am sorry. This article is biased.
    I do feel left out, discriminated against and intimidated by my son’s special ed teacher. ANd I have tried to bend over backwards not to be labeled as a “bridge burner”. The first day I met her she said “I’ll be your son’s teacher for the next 3 years so you HAVE to put up with me!” I thought she was just being witty. Man! Was I wrong.
    I was a active memeber of the PTO and in touch with all parents and staff, the Gym coach, music teacher and the principal. In three years, she systematically worked against each of my connections saying that SHE is responsible for my son not them!
    She gangs up against me with the speech therapist and shoots down all my real concerns and manages to write the IEP that SHE WANTS. They YELL at my son when he fails to say hello to a peer who just greeted him. They yell at him when he is not paying attention. That is their idea of mainsteaming a kid with Aspergers!

    I see her giving important information to other moms in a friendly way. when i request the same information, she gives a short, curt reply or redirects me to some website or some telephone number . She has excluded my son from field trips without asking me. When I confront her she becomes defensive. She never sends me the permission slips on time EVER! and she blames it on my son as if he is doing it on purpose. When some other vindictive school staff lied to her about what my son said during a health class(They asked him to touch some brain model, he refused because of sensory issues and they said “I don’t care! Every one else touched it” and he said “I don’t care what everi other kid did!”
    , she called me, yelled at me and her exact words were “You can’t use your son’s disability as an excuse not to discipline him. She didn’t even try to see what exactly happened.
    Sure NOt all special ed teachers can be as bad as my example but I am totally depressed and traumatized. All I have to do is think of the number of times I have been bullied or discriminated against and I lose my sleep. . she even openly told me “You can’t get rid of me!” in an IEP meeting. ANY question I ask her is seen as a bad parent trying to get her fired. I asked the district to tranfer my son. They always say, we’ll have to do it ONLY after a re-evaluation.
    I took my son’s private tutor/speech therapist to a meeting just to be sure that I wasn’t being paranoid about my concerns and the school’s apathy, It just made matters worse! The special ed teacher and the school speech therapist became so angry and paranoid that they even refused to make eye contact with me during the meeting. Even their opening statement was defensive and combative. It was 2 hours of descrbing what a probematic boy I have how they are all saints trying to teach this XXXXXXX monster some life skills and academic skills. For a whole year, they made a case against me sending him to a private therapist becuase too much therapy was frying his brain and it is getting hard for THEM to do their jobs and made sure I stopped that!

    Now they give me a smug look as if to say “Finally we managed to get her to tow the line”

    Believe me when I say that my son (who has Aspergers and a rare form sleep-based seizure disorder) has always been given the best-behaved kid label in every camp, every game, every playdate wven reading class he has attended. I am disheartened that I am runing hsi education by being in the bad books of a REALLY vicdictive special ed team.
    Sorry, . Moms who boast of being teacher-friendly-never-burned-any-bridges types have no idea that it has nothing to do with their good personality . THEY WERE JUST LUCKY NOT TO BE PUT IN MY SHOES.

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I’m NOT Your Enemy: Secrets from Your Child’s Special Education Teacher

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