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An Open Letter to Regular Education Teachers

Meghan Mathis

Dear Regular Education teachers,

To begin, let me say thank you.  Thank you to all of you who work every day to make sure that students who are identified as having learning and/or emotional disabilities are welcomed and included in your classrooms.  Thank you to all of you who co-teach with a Special teacher and make them feel welcome and included in the teaching process.  Thank you to all of you who return our requests for your information regarding student progress and behavior in your classroom promptly and with relevant, useful information and data for the students’ Special Education paperwork.  Thank you for attending IEP meetings and being a team member who provides your vital insights and ideas on how to best help each student experience educational success.  Thank you to all of you who help Special Education teachers do their jobs every day.  

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you with all my heart for all that you do, but also to mention a few things that we Special Education teachers frequently encounter that make our jobs much harder.  I know that this might be a touchy subject, regular education teachers aren’t doing any of these things on purpose – they are too busy working as hard as they can to reach our students and provide them with an amazing education every day.  I also am aware that “An Open Letter to Special Education Teachers…” could be written just as easily (and maybe it should be!).  So please know as you continue to read that I feel fortunate and blessed to work with the Regular Education teachers I’ve taught with over the years…these are just some of the things I wish we could do differently together. 

Please get my requests for student information back to me on time

I know that you get tons of forms asking you for information for different students each day.  I know they are a pain.  I know that you really just want to spend your time on designing and implementing amazing lessons that are going to help the students learn, rather than filling out forms.  I know…because I feel the same way.  I have to fill out the forms too.  And then, I have to re-type yours and put them into so many different forms and plans that it makes my head spin.  And if I don’t get them completed on time, the right way, with all the essential information included – the district could get sued.  It’s a lot of pressure.  It’s even more pressure when I have to hunt teachers down to beg them to complete their forms.  So please, I know you hate them…I do too…but please try to get them back to me as soon as you can.

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Please fill them out with useful information…

I know, I know…paperwork again…but seriously, it sometimes feels like it’s all I do.  A parent is going to want to know why their student is earning a 45% in your class.  They’re going to want to know what you’ve done to try to help their son or daughter, they’re going to want proof that we’re following the IEP and meeting their child’s needs.  I’m going to need more information than the student’s grade and, “She’s doing fine.  She needs to turn in homework.”  

I’ll try to get you out of the IEP meeting as quickly as possible but please try to show up…

It can be a real struggle to find teachers to attend IEP meetings.  I understand that you don’t want to give up class time, come early, or stay late.  But please remember that you’re part of this student’s IEP team.  Technically, we’re all supposed to show up and write the IEP together from start to finish, going over the data as a team and deciding unanimously what accommodations and goals should be included.  So when I ask you to show up for 10-15 minutes to discuss how the student is doing in your class, please help me out if possible!  I can’t tell you how embarrassing it is as the Special Education teacher to sit in a meeting with a parent and try to explain why their child’s regular education teacher didn’t show up! 

If we co-teach, please remember that I’m a teacher too…

Co-teaching can be hard.  I’ve been lucky and have had far more positive experiences than negative ones, but I’ve still been in co-teaching situations where I felt much more like a houseguest who had drastically overstayed her welcome than a partner teacher in the classroom.  It can be difficult to share the reins when your entire career has been spent developing the skills needed to plan and implement engaging lessons while maintaining control in the classroom on your own.  You may really not see the benefit of having another teacher to have to juggle responsibilities with…or maybe you love the idea, but making it work is challenging. 

Please just remember that the person you’re working with has just as many qualifications as you do (maybe more!) and probably feels just as awkward as you do if you were thrown into the co-teaching world without support and time to plan.  As difficult as it is to find time to plan together, please try to do so – we don’t want to feel like drastically overpaid teacher’s aides taking up space in your classroom. 

Please remember that I don’t have a magic wand, pixie dust, a lamp with a genie in it…

In other words, you can come to me complaining about how an identified student is driving you crazy for any number of reasons, but I cannot “fix them.”  I can work with you to try to find solutions that will help, but I can’t wave a wand and make them model students.  I know you know this, but I can’t tell you how many times a week someone stops by my room to say in an exasperated tone, “__________ isn’t doing any work/refuses to follow rules/is picking his nose during class/etc.  He’s yours, right?”  Yes, he’s mine.  But remember, he’s yours too.  So if you’ve stopped by to commiserate I’m all for it…lets shut the door and do some well-earned griping together.  But afterwards, let’s work together to figure out what we’re going to do about it…because I can’t fix it on my own. 

Please remember at all times…

I think you’re great.  Even if you have done ALL of the things I listed above, I love working with you.  Working with a small minority of the school’s population everyday can be isolating and lonely.  When I work with you, it makes me feel like I’m part of a team, like I have colleagues and friends.  It makes me feel like I’m not in this alone.  To the Regular Education teachers I have worked with who have made my job a joy…I hope you know who you are and I hope you know that I can’t thank you enough.

 

Dedicated to: JB, TE, AS, KM, KK, and all of the other wonderful regular education teachers I have the privilege to work beside every day.