An Open Letter to Special Education Teachers
by Shannon Aronin on August 24th, 2015

Dear Special Education Teacher:

I want you to know I’m scared. Students don’t end up in your classroom by being well-adjusted, and while I know that you have probably seen it all, I am so used to people who think they have seen it all until they meet my Boo.

For the first time since pre-school, I have not been going through the Back-to-School grind (well described here by a mom whose amazing words made me cry and inspired this post). I’m not worried about school supplies or packing lunches, these things are completely provided. We bought him some new clothes that were dress code compliant online and they were on sale.

Not only do students arrive at your door with special needs, I suspect most of the parents arrive at your door guarded. The road to get here was not easy – not easy to acquire these services and not easy to accept that my child needed them.

When the first day of school arrives, the principal introduces himself to my family, by his FIRST NAME. Considering the slightly passive aggressive stance I have taken with school personnel who insist on this nasty habit of using last names as if we aren’t equals, this stopped me dead in my tracks. My kid is not his teachers’ equal, so he will call them what he is told. But yes, I have been known to respond to emails from Ms. Last Name with a Hi First Name and insisting they call me Shannon. I have never called my boss, my CEO or anyone other than medical doctors and my own teachers as anything but by their first names.

Putting up such formal walls doesn’t make me feel like an equal partner in education. And here was this welcoming man greeting my child and telling him to call him by his first name. When I found out that all the teachers here also went by their first names I thought it was not only charming, it was warm. It was warm for kids who have met so much iciness for their inability to control their behavior in a general education classroom.

We were allowed to take him to his classroom. This meant the world to us. It should be illegal to force Kindergarteners and First Graders to march down a hall by themselves and not let parents in the classroom, just on the first day. Those first few moments in a classroom at the start of the year shouldn’t be about establishing authority over young children, they should be about building trust.

I saw the warmth in your eyes, the quiet way you spoke. I don’t know if you are always so calm and peaceful, both you and the two classroom aides look like you had Xanax for breakfast, in a good way. Eleven special needs children with behavioral problems are about to enter your room and you look happy to see them.

I see that you have gone all out. Not only is my child’s name on his desk, it is on the wall in a perfectly cut, laminated construction paper star. The work for each child in on the wall in carefully divided folder. For most of the students, many other things are taped to their desk, most notably their IEP goals so that they can start to achieve them. There’s a corner of the room I can see my Boo will feel safe pacing when he needs to. How long did you spend tending to this room, to make it more than just a great space to learn, but a space to heal as well?
I see you, and I have no idea why you are here. You could have chosen so many easier paths in life, even if you were called to make a difference. You could be teaching “normal” kids right now instead of willingly taking a job in which you don’t even get to escape to a teachers’ lounge for lunch and recess because these are critical times for the social learning most of these kids need far more than reading,’riting and ‘rithmatic, although you are expected to teach those too, to common core standards.

When Boo arrives home that afternoon, he is very happy and proud of himself.  I see that he has a daily report on which you have rated his behavior every 45 minutes. You have included detailed notes and there is a space for me to let you know if his night was positive or negative and his morning before school was positive or negative. That evening, I receive the kindest email from you telling me how much you enjoyed him today and asking me to review the details of the behavior modification trick we have been using at home that I mentioned in passing that morning.

Thank you. Thank you for everything you did leading up to the first day of school and during this first week. Boo is already excited to see you on Monday.


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7 Comments

Candice - August 24th, 2015 at 5:15 PM
I love it!! I'm a mommy to a special needs student as well and the author of the post "Dear Teachers: You Don't Fool Me". Thank you for taking the time to read it a for the sweet comment. I love your post. Well done!!!
- August 24th, 2015 at 5:23 PM
Wow, thank you Candice! I'm honored. Your post totally made me cry. Not only did a teacher friend share it, she and I have a mutual friend in common with one of your fellow Alamo City Moms, Katy Rouse David. Small world!
Ed - August 24th, 2015 at 5:20 PM
Awesome story! So happy that all is going well.
Megan - August 24th, 2015 at 9:07 PM
I'm a special needs mom as well as a special needs teachers aide. Thank you for this!!! I am so happy to do what I do and this just made my day!
Jill - August 25th, 2015 at 8:06 AM
What a lovely post. Thank you for acknowledging the amazing work that special education teachers and staff do everyday. They are truly society's unsung heroes!
- August 27th, 2015 at 2:23 PM
Jill! Forgive me! It took me way to long to make the connection and figure out who you are. Thank you for reading. :-) I look forward to meeting you soon!
Wendy - August 29th, 2015 at 12:53 PM
Hi Shannon. I read Candice' post which led me to yours. I teach regular ed but subbed long term in special ed as well, and witnessed first hand the love, innovation, patience, and attention to detail the special ed teachers and aides have. I think we should add the other hoop that they jump through daily: the limitations put upon them by the people over them, all the way up to the top of the "food chain". Example: Most students benefit from touch, (a little hug, a little pat, holding hands while we walk etc.) but in my district absolutely no touching is allowed. So many rules tie our hands as teachers. But I digress. You described these teachers so well! Your post made me cry. So glad that you wrote it. And I'm so glad you mentioned that first name last name thing. It has always upset me as well. Why would anyone have to refer to anyone by their last name to respect them or their authority? If you can't earn the respect of a person by just being who you are and being competent at what you do, then having people call you by your last name isn't going to draw their respect or inspire them to contribute to the team ... it's just going to "force" their compliance and draw their resentment. It builds a wall between people. It reduces everyone in the relationship. Nurturing the relationship is the key. It's the respect and kindness that we show to each other (between staff, parents, kids, teachers, and administration) that creates a happy environment which ultimately, I believe, leads to the success of the class and of the school. Not the name we call each other by. Well said.
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