Disclaimer: I am a teacher. I have been one for nearly 20 years. I have had many different dealings with advocates, and my opinion is skewed as unfortunately, I have not had a positive meeting when an advocate is present.
Many parents feel overwhelmed with the process of an IEP meeting and may feel that they are in need of assistance and guidance. Having a special needs student can bring up a multitude of emotions, uncertainty, fear, and even guilt. There is no doubt that all of the terminology can be daunting, and then there is the pressure of sitting in a meeting with educators using “edspeak”. The whole process can be extremely nerve wrenching.
As a parent….I get it. All I want is for my children to be happy, feel loved, succeed, and be healthy. Whenever something gets in the way of that…Mama Bear comes out. I am determined to” fix” whatever I can fix. I am fortunate in that my children are, for the most part, healthy and happy. There are (and have been) bumps in the road, but that’s another story.
However, as a teacher…it is frustrating, and frankly, at times insulting. My personal perspective is that we are a team, hence the name: IEP team, which includes everyone, especially the student. I am one piece of the pie, not the whole pie, and certainly not the enemy. I did not become a special ed teacher because I want to make students’ life miserable. I work hard to meet their needs, to get to know them as maturing individuals, to assist them in becoming functional adults.
I pride myself as having good relationships with parents, district employees, and as being a good teacher and a damn good case manager. Parents call me, email me, and have meetings with me regularly. I work with my students, and try my hardest to make sure that all are treated with respect and are heard.
When I meet an advocate, unfortunately, it is after someone else has broken trust along the way. The advocate usually appears to attend the meeting with the mindset of challenging me, the district, and that anything said. This can be difficult to deal with as that is not always the case. There are situations, events that the advocate may not be fully aware of, and when the advocate immediately discounts my opportunity to rebuild trust, it is unsettling.
I have had advocates patronize me, insult me, tell me that I do not know the regulations. I have had advocates who will not let the student and/or the parent speak. I have had advocates who try to convince the team that he/she knows more about the student and how to educate him/her. I have observed advocates patronize their client. I have had advocates go to the media because of a district ruling, which, by the way, is out of the teacher’s hands, and then wonder why we can’t be friends.
I realize that there are times when an advocate may be necessary for a variety of reasons. There may be a legitimate need. Please, to ensure that you are getting the best representation interview, assess the advocate. Is this person someone who truly embraces the team spirit? Is this someone who is willing to look at the educators as professionals deserving respect? Is this someone who is interested in what is best for the student, and can deal with the reality of the world that we live in, or someone who is going to spend a lot of time/money to antagonize the team? Many districts even provide a facilitator for free and this is definitely worth looking into for advice and support with district policies as well as regulations.
I would ask you…if an advocate antagonizes the team….who wins? I believe the only person who wins is the advocate. And you are paying for it.