As a middle school teacher, it was common for me to have between 30 and 40 children in my classroom. Most years, about a third of my students had IEPs. Here are some things that I discovered on the way to learning about inclusion that I pass on to parents:
1. Write a short description of "Care and Handling tips" and include a photo of your child. This will help the teacher learn names and place children strategically when making a seating chart. Include a large print list of most essential things to place on the desk or lesson plan book. For example, "Maria has a snack at nutrition break so her blood sugar stays even." or "Collin has ear plugs for silent reading time." If you have any articles or resources (websites, books) related to your child's disability, share them! Most teachers love to learn!
2. If your child has a buddy who knows him or her who can be a partner for group work, let your teacher know! Otherwise, tell him or her what kinds of kids your child gets along with so they can help identify a helpful classroom buddy.
3. Keep a communication notebook with your student, you and the teacher. Help your child create a communication book (it can be a spiral, a composition book or a section in a binder). Let your child decorate it (stickers, photos!) and add an envelope with incentive stickers for the teacher to use. Help your child (take dictation for younger students) write a letter to the teacher introducing him or herself and describing things that are important. For example, "I need you to be patient and wait for me to answer, sometimes I need time to think and if you rush me I get nervous." Send notes back and forth about accomplishments ("We got homework done in 20 minutes with no fussing!!") and concerns or important information ("did not want breakfast. Extra snack in bag."). Encourage your child to write his or her own notes ("I am nervous about the field trip!") Ask the teacher to write a quick note daily-- even "great day!" or "sensory defensive today!" is helpful. Make sure you check it and write back-- "great morning" or "grumpy today" is helpful for the teacher to know!
The most important thing is to keep in touch. Discuss best ways to keep in contact with the teacher and the aide. (Email? Cell phone? Written notes?) Establish a strong relationship with the school office staff and teacher, the bus driver and aide. Visit at school as often as you can. Invite the school team to contact you with questions, concerns and good news too!
Something to keep in mind is this: although class size reduction has been very popular, the research on its impact has been very mixed. It seems that the most important thing when it comes to student achievement may just be quality teaching and a positive connection to the teacher. Help your child's teacher be the teacher your child needs, and help your child develop a strong positive relationship with the teacher.
Wrightslaw also offers great tips for a successful school year.
Coming on Thursday, our last post in our "Back to School Series": Keeping Track of all your paperwork