Lisa Lacy Lisa Marie Lacy was a former Special Education teacher who taught for six years in an urban school district in a large metropolitan area in the southwestern region of the United States. She is currently a doctoral student at Arizona State University in the Curriculum & Instruction-Special Education program. Lisa’s research interests lie in the area of identity and teachers’ beliefs and perceptions as they relate to inclusive education. She is interested in how teachers’ beliefs and perceptions are shaped by their lived experiences and cultural histories and have an impact on how they view students with disabilities in the educational setting. Additionally, she is interested in creating culturally responsive school/family partnerships for the betterment of all students.

I arrived at work in a harried state and frame of mind. I have so much work to do today and a ton of IEP meetings, these words ran through my head as I unlocked the classroom door and instinctively turned on the lights and walked to my desk and retrieved my phone messages. I put my book bag on the floor next to my desk, and checked my emails, one-by-one, quickly glancing at the clock on the wall. 8:45. I sighed, and mumbled come on to the computer as I waited impatiently for all ten pages of my IEP documents to print from my printer. I just had enough time to grab the student’s file and all other paperwork that goes into a student’s file that is going to receive special education services.

I ran across the school campus, saying Hello to all of the relaxed shiny faces that usually greeted me every morning. The students are used to seeing me run across the grass through the cafeteria, on my way to the office for another meeting. Today’s meeting was to discuss the results from a few meetings prior about a student who qualified to receive special education services. I approach the meeting already feeling anxious. The parent of this particular student has missed several eligibility meetings, citing various reasons why she cannot be in attendance. My colleagues and I, slowly walked in to the barren, white-walled, picture-less room. This room was a makeshift conference room, a room that housed student files and old text books that were out of print, just being housed until a janitor could box them up and take them to the warehouse. We took our places in the conference room and automatically placed our folders on the table and made small talk with each other, patiently awaiting the arrival of the parent. The clock now reads 9:15. The meeting was scheduled for 9:00. I scan the room. I saw someone texting on their phone , another writing a memo on his calendar, and the principal standing at the door asking the office manager to call the mother, to see what is holding her up. I was ready to leave.  I was wasting precious morning time. I had another meeting to prepare for in a few hours and I was silently protesting this woman keeping us waiting.

9:35. The parent saunters in the cold stark conference room that was by now feeling colder than thirty five minutes ago. The parent sits down, the rest of us uneasily shift in our chairs, resuming our roles as   professionals, the knowledge holders, that we were when we first walked in the conference room. We introduce ourselves. The parent immediately announces in a loud voice with a seemingly indignant tone, that she only has fifteen minutes for this meeting. I lost all patience by then, and told her to sit down in an unfriendly tone, which had more to do with the fact that she was late (how dare she) and now she was trying to rush this meeting because she had another appointment – to get her electricity reconnected. My colleague Rachel gently placed her hand on my shoulder to calm me down. The principal suggested we reschedule the meeting. The parent insisted that we continue the meeting despite our time restrictions; because she was not coming back any time soon…she was busy.

I believe in order to create an effective Individualized Education Program (IEP), parents, teachers, and related service personnel and often the student (he was in class) come together to look at the student’s unique educational needs.  As a result,  my colleagues and I came to design an  individual educational  program (IEP) to guide the special education supports and services for this student to use to access and to be involved in  the general curriculum. The parent was looking at her watch, her cell phone started ringing, and my blood pressure was escalating. I started feeling hot and irritable. I was wondering why is this parent making this meeting so difficult? I began to personalize her behavior, as if her very being was not up to my standards and maybe not everyone else’s either… I expected more from her as an African American woman. I started questioning her love for her son: Does not she care about her son? After all, we were doing all we could for her son, the least she could do was to be interested in his well being… It was my turn (I did not want to be at this meeting). I took a big cleansing breath, the kind you take in yoga (all of those mean thoughts that were rummaging in my head, cease to be or matter), and started talking about her student. I soon realized that I was talking to another mother about her child (something about her countenance changed, maybe it was the way she looked at me as if she were looking through me), who had recently been diagnosed with a Learning Disability. Who wants to hear that, on any day? I cannot recall all the words that I said to that mother during those fifteen minutes that I spoke about special education program specifics, length of service time, etc. I just spoke from my heart and gently answered all of her questions. I focused on the relationship that needed to be built and nurtured, between the parent and school, so that we could work together to provide the best education for her son. At that moment, I offered her my phone number and email address if she needed anything else from me or if she thought of anything regarding her child, after that day, she should call me.

I, too, have a child with a disability. I remembered how I felt when I heard the news that my son had been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder (private evaluation). I was stunned. What does bipolar mean? Okay my son was moody and often mean, but that’s just him. I chalked up his moods swings and irrational behavior to teenage angst. Right? Isn’t that typical behavior for today’s adolescents? The school IEP meeting that I went to was cold, business as usual. I sat in my chair, looking at the psychologists lips moving but all I could hear is the voice in my head screaming: what do I do now? I felt helpless, I cannot fix this. I am a fixer. Mothers fix everything, that’s our jobs. That’s my job. I remember leaving that meeting believing that these people thought I was a bad parent. Not one person offered me their email address or phone number in a personable manner. I just got a business card from the school counselor and a “good luck.”

The meeting came to an end. My colleagues started gathering their papers and numerous files and began quietly chatting about the next meeting which was to start in a few minutes. Ignoring the conversations that were taking place across the table, I slowly, almost instinctively turned my gaze upon the parent and witnessed tears in her eyes. She cared about her son, too.  I rose from my chair, adjusted my skirt (for some reason that was a priority or may have been a nervous reaction to what I am not sure. Somehow I felt the meeting needed real closure…something was missing). I walked over to her and gave her a hug for the two of us, and our sons, at this moment we shared something special.

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4 Responses to “Dual Roles: Special Education Teacher and Parent of Child with a Mental Disability by Lisa Lacy”

  1. Jennifer Huber on 1/6/12 12:43 AM US/Eastern

    Thank you for sharing your story Lisa. I am wondering how we can better build relationship and connection during IEP meetings to avoid the pain evident in the meetings you described above. Perhaps your own personal experiences can help us better understand – what do you think would have helped you as a parent during a meeting? How can IEP documents and meetings become more meaningful and less burdensome for parents and teachers?

    I am thinking about a mother’s relationship to her child and how home can be a sanctuary for many families but then coming into an IEP meeting none of those home attributes join into the discussions so many times. Would it be neat to have an IEP meeting with families that felt like a sanctuary?

    Thanks again for sharing your stories!

  2. Anna A. Zepeda on 1/6/12 1:27 AM US/Eastern

    Thank you for your blog, Lisa. Like you, I am a teacher with a degree in special education and the parent to a person who has a disability. My son, now 20, was diagnosed with autism in the early 1990s. Very little information was available at the time and like you, at his first IEP meeting, things were said that just washed over me as if in slow motion. I think back to those early years when he was a young student and remember feeling that I had to be prepared for battle at meetings. Part of the problem was the lack of understanding on the part of school service providers. There were labels and terminology that was somewhat foreign to me as this was many years before earning any of my degrees in education. I often felt defensive because it seemed like everyone had made up their minds ahead of time an all I was there for was to sign my name giving permission. With time and experience, I began asking more questions,wanting explanations, and just being a more effective advocate.
    Now, fast forward to me as teacher. Currently, my role is as general education teacher but my education in special ed has served me well. Not only am I better equipped to serve my students, I am able to reach out and relate to the parents of my student who happen to have IEPs.
    One parent, who was similar to the one wrote about, seemed to relax when I shared that I too am a parent with a son with special needs. I told her to please ask questions and say whatever she wanted. I laughingly told her that befoe I became a teacher that these meetings may as well have been in a foreign language.
    The meeting was successful, mom stayed in contact and my colleagues said they had never seen this parent so relaxed and receptive. They thanked me. I thank my son for teaching me how to reach out other parents and making the way a little easier.

  3. David Hernandez-Saca on 1/7/12 2:49 PM US/Eastern

    Dear Lisa,

    Thank you for sharing your personal experiences about your different roles in and out of school.

    My sister, had a similar experience regarding feeling powerless in relation to school officials’ (dis)ability diagnosis with her son. My sister told me that the school principal would chase her down the street when she would go and pick up her son and express that they are “losing” her son; insinuating that my sister needed to participate more in her son’s education. My sister came to me almost in tears and distress one day because she felt harassed.

    I eventually went and advocated for my nephew and sister and I immediately felt the power differential when 9, yes 9, specialists and staff, were seated across the table from my sister. Each telling her good and bad things about her son’s education in a language that was indeed foreign to her: medical and psychologically based.

    This blog reminds me of the need for transformation in our local school policies and practices/contexts regarding disability identification and human relations. Culturally responsive pedagogy with students has been purported as a useful change in paradigm to the business as usual in our schools when servicing culturally and linguistically diverse students. Perhaps its time to do the same when providing services to our families of not only children with disabilities but ALL children.

    Paz, David

  4. Migdalia Rivera on 3/1/12 1:59 PM US/Eastern

    Dear Lisa,
    I salute and applaud your wonderfully written story and heart felt moments during the IEP meeting in your story.

    I too am a parent of a special needs child. I have had an extensive journey advocating for my son, to the extent of relocating to a different state seeking the best special ed services for my child. It goes without question that Parents are the most important advocate for their child and need to be empowered, through awareness and being informed, so they can work with the IEP team and also with understanding from their child, their needs.

    Most grateful, Migdalia

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