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.