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Back to School

We’re just getting back into the back-to-school groove. We sent our youngest, Ethan — and his nurse — to the second grade. Our daughter, Kiersten, just started the fifth grade, and Nick, our oldest, ages out of the system this year; he turns 22 in October.

Beyond different grades, our three very different children have very different needs. Our two boys receive special education services, and Kiersten has a 504 plan (she has ADD and anxiety). We look at these remarkable teachers, therapists, counselors and so much more as partners in this year’s journey for each of our children. These people are responsible for so much, but it’s important to remember that these educators are human too.

We always hope that some of the staff members remain the same. Those individuals already know our children well. New teachers, therapists and counselors need time to learn what motivates each of our children, what needs they have and how to meet them and how to differentiate the instruction to make sure my children are successful in their respective classrooms.

As an educator myself, I understand the Texas teacher struggles — the lack of support and funding — and what that translates to inside the classroom.

Each new school year brings high expectations from parents and educators alike. As parents, we need to pick our battles thoughtfully. Believe me, my wife and I could start each year with a list of about 100 things we want addressed, but we maintain perspective and focus on what’s really important — our kids’ health, safety and maximum participation in each of their classrooms.

From the other side of the desk, as an educator who has taught in multiple districts, I can say that most of my students’ parents are like my wife and me and want to partner together to make their child’s year successful. But there are always a handful of parents with the highest of expectations that border on unrealistic. You probably know them. (Hopefully you aren’t one.) These parents make a huge deal because their high school student didn’t write down their assignment; they expect for us, the teachers, to do that for them. Or the parents become angry because the classroom can’t accommodate their child’s diet — a diet of choice, not necessity.

I believe that kids in general education high school classes should be responsible for their own assignments; they’re almost adults. And as for those classroom snacks? Those aren’t required by districts — they come out of the teachers’ pockets, and teachers typically need to stretch their dollars as far as they will go. So my advice to parents? Do what my wife and I do: Prioritize the top five issues for each of your kids. For example, Nick and Ethan both require nursing support. Nick gets it round-the-clock; Ethan receives it during the day, every day. Their needs are unique, and it is vital for their health and safety, and for them to participate fully in their instruction, to have nursing care. So when one of their nurses passed away and another nurse was away, my boys missed over a month of school. No one from the school bothered to call or check in on the kids or share that they were ready, willing and able to support them.

Another example: How do teachers accommodate a reading assessment for a nonverbal child? How does the teacher know what my son is comprehending? The teachers struggle with how to make sure accommodations are met in order to see the true level and where support is needed.

These are the issues that we devote time and energy to; we let the little stuff go.

Educators literally put their blood, sweat and tears into their jobs for your children. We clearly don’t do it for the money. We do the best we can with the resources we have.

So, parents, when you’re preparing to send an email or make a phone call to request a conference with your son or daughter’s teacher, please ask yourselves if the request you have is something your child needs or it’s something that you want.