Sweating Parent Involvement?

We all hear about how important parent involvement is in a child’s education.  It leads to better student engagement, higher test scores and increased graduation rates.  So what if you’re a parent who’s palms sweat at the idea of walking through the front doors of the school?  What if your heart races at the idea of a parent teacher conference, or speaking with the principle about an issue your son or daughter may be having?

Learning difficulties are often hereditary.  How many parents of children, who are struggling in school, had a difficult time themselves?  I am one of those parents whose memories of school elicit feelings of inadequacy and frustration.  I walked into those early meetings to advocate for my children immediately on the defensive.  I’d sweat, sitting in those little kindergarten chairs, ready to be told it’s all my fault my children aren’t learning to read or are inattentive in class.  It was nerve wracking to speak out on their behalf, question the “experts” and get nothing in return.   I’d feel dismissed, just like I’d always felt in school.  Yet, I knew my child, and I knew the school was missing something.

None of us want our children to have the negative feelings towards education that we may have.  We want them to get something out of their time and feel valued for their strengths.  So I promised myself we would find out why these kids were struggling.  I would go above the teachers and administrators heads and find experts to help us.  It was the only way I could feel confident walking in there and having a real discussion about their needs and the schools failure in meeting those needs.  I read everything I can find on the topic (even though I have to read it three or four times) and am becoming the expert on my child’s learning differences.  When I walk in to the classroom now, I am the one teaching the teacher about my child and providing them with a list of accommodations.

Remember, you are the expert on your child, not the teacher!  You know their strengths and weaknesses and have an intuition about what’s going on.  Don’t be afraid to follow your gut feelings!  General education teachers often don’t know a lot about learning disorders.  If your child has a specific learning challenge, read as much as you can about it and educate the school about it.  If you also have difficulty reading or retaining what you’ve read, many of the websites on learning disorders have videos to watch.  In parent teacher conferences, ask a lot of questions!  Many times educators will get caught up in using acronyms for everything.  Make sure you remind them you’re not in their field and they need to use the proper terminology.  You wouldn’t expect them to drop into your workplace and immediately know industry terms and they shouldn’t expect it of you.

While my husband and I have talked with our sons about our difficulties in school so that they know we identify with what they’re feeling, we try to put on a positive attitude about education for them.  I want them to feel like they are partners in their education.  They need to know when and how to speak up for themselves, and as parents, we need to make sure they are heard when they do speak up.

So be prepared for a lot of sweaty palms and late night reading.  Advocating for your child isn’t easy, but the day your child wakes up excited to go to school or doesn’t want the school year to end, it will all be worth it.

~Angela Baronello

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