We Do Care
A few years ago, I attended a restorative listening community event, which brought together parents/caregivers, general education teachers, special education service providers, and administrators. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I entered a large hall filled with round tables. Seating was organized so that each table contained members of the different constituent groups. Restorative listening is part of restorative justice, designed to unite disparate parties through the sharing of perspectives. Each person is encouraged to speak their truth while everyone listens.
At my table, a parent spoke first. She had a young daughter who had Autism Spectrum Disorder and behavioral challenges. She talked about how her daughter’s kindergarten teacher “really got it” and understood the supports that her daughter needed, but subsequent teachers had not connected with her daughter and didn’t support her. She commented that the special education team didn’t do nearly enough for her daughter. She listed the things that they should have done and should be doing right now.
A general education teacher shared next. She described her classroom and how she supported students with special needs. I couldn’t focus. My mind was still processing everything the mother had said. I was thinking about how I might try to collaborate with her if her child was on my caseload. I was also worried about the special education team that did serve her child and wondered if I might know any of them.
I wanted to explain that we wanted to do more. We all wanted to do more, but there were many constraints (time and staffing, competing responsibilities, district policies and mandates), and that as human beings with busy lives, we simply couldn’t work every evening and every weekend. I tried to organize my thoughts to show that we did care and that it was never that we didn’t care.
Suddenly, it was my turn, and everyone at the table was staring at me. To my shock and surprise, I didn’t speak at all but began to cry – not like crying in the movies where an actress sheds a solitary tear that slowly slides down her cheek. This was real life blubbering with my nose running and gulping breaths of air. I stopped eventually, after other people at the table had found a box of tissues and somebody had offered to hug me.
When I finally could speak, I said, “You have no idea how hard it is to know what you want to do and to be unable to do it because of the constraints of the system. I am not allowed to recommend a single thing to you for your daughter because anything I suggest could make the district liable to provide it. I want to do more, but sometimes it’s not allowed and sometimes there is not administrative support to provide more. We do care and we are trying.”
As speech Language Pathologists, we care about the students we serve. We work hard to support students, families, and staff. We can all take opportunities to advocate and to let everyone know our truth, even when it hurts.
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