Tuesday, August 7, 2018

If I Could Interview My Child's New Teacher

In a few weeks, my daughter with Down syndrome and minimal verbal skills will not be walking in to her old familiar classroom full of friends. Our little world is about to change. 
From kindergarten to fifth grade, Jaycee had the same teacher at the same school. Jaycee, the teacher, and I had a rhythm and understanding. We knew what to expect from each other. We had a good parent-student-teacher relationship, which made the six years of schooling easier. If I would not have liked the teacher, that would have been a loooong six years, but it wasn't like that at all.

This year, Jaycee will start a new program at a new school with a new teacher. Any parent in this situation would feel apprehensive. I'm no different. I know everything will be just fine after school gets started, but the unknown is always scary. Change is hard, especially if you have really enjoyed where you have been, but it's time to move forward.

I think any parent wants their child to have a caring and devoted teacher, but sometimes the person who teaches our child is completely out of our control. When there's no choice, information is key. Some parents in the regular education system take quite a bit of intel on their child's new teacher by peppering seasoned parents with questions, so they can be prepared and gauge how much success or trouble their child will have.

"How much homework does she give?"

"Is her classroom pretty strict or is it laid back?"

"Do children enjoy being in her classroom?"

"Is the teacher easy or too hard?"

The new teacher is important for any parent whether your child has a disability or not. Parents in the special education system ask similar questions trying to get a sense of what their child will face.

Unfortunately, I don't know too many parents at Jaycee's new school to contact and gather my normal intel. So, I feel like I'm heading into this school year with little information to go on. 

If I had five minutes to ask my child's new teacher anything (without any fear of seeming like a weirdo to a complete stranger), these are the things I would ask her or him:

-How many children will be in this class?

-Are there any students in the class who may harm my child? If so, what's the plan to keep her and the others safe?

-My child misses many school days due to illnesses, specialty appointments, and hospital admissions. What's your policy about making up work she misses?

-How often will you communicate with me about Jaycee's school days/activities because Jaycee cannot provide any of that information to me herself?

-Sometimes my child cannot go outside and play because the air may be too warm or cold for her lungs, how will this medical need be accommodated?

-My child uses signs, gestures, a communication device, and some verbal speech. How do you feel about a total communication approach? How comfortable are you with sign language or devices?

-My child is very routine and schedule oriented. If her transition to this new school is rough, what are some ways that you will support her? 

You might be surprised by things I would not ask the teacher. I really don't care how long they've been doing their job. I've seen great new teachers and wonderful experienced ones. The opposite can be true as well!

I wouldn't ask how much experience they have Down syndrome. My child is pretty unique, so it wouldn't really matter to me if Down syndrome was a new condition for them (though I doubt it is).

I really don't care what they do in their classroom for academics. I'm just not in that place in Jaycee's life anymore. Basic math and reading skills are important, and I'm sure they'll be addressed, but most of our daily life centers around her communication and medical needs.

For the record, I've never grilled a new teacher. I've always done it in my head, of course. Still, these are the things that are important to me. I hope the staff at the new school and I can get to the same place that I've been accustomed to with Jaycee's prior school experience. We'll soon find out....

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