There is a bad reputation out there for special education lawyers, advocates and parents of special education kids. The reputation is that we hate all school teachers and those who work in the schools and we are simply out for vengeance.
I’m going to focus this post on the misrepresentation that I must hate teachers because I’m a special education lawyer. Absolutely – 180 degrees – the opposite. I LOVE teachers. Let me explain why and how we all fit as perfectly aligned spokes in the wheel of special education.
Teachers have thankless jobs. Often they aren’t paid very well, but are teachers because they love kids and they love education. Big plus in my opinion. After all, that is what we all want; people in the field of education who love to teach kids.
Most teachers are also sensitive to the needs of disabled / special education kids. They understand the challenges that these kids face and try their best to accommodate them so that they, too, receive a good education along with the “neuro-typical” or otherwise non-disabled kids.
Some teachers even go out of their way (bless their hearts) to go above and beyond their job requirements to help these kids. Some even violate rules or the directions of the administrators in order to assist special ed kids.
So, often, my beef is not with the teachers. In fact, almost never is my argument with the teachers. My argument is with the school district who handcuffs the teacher or who misinforms the teacher as to what he/she should do for the special education child. I have seen the school districts actually incorrectly state the law to teachers. Whether that is intentional or not, I don’t know.
Granted, there are some teachers that are not altruistic and just want their paycheck. But like any occupation, there are a few bad apples in every bunch. Of course the really bad ones make the news, which is unfortunate because the overwhelming majority of teachers are fantastic. And I love them for that. It is no different than lawyers and having to deal with the ones that make the news leaving a bad impression on people that all lawyers have heinous or monetary objectives. Similarly, there are doctors who don’t really care about their patients and may even commit fraud in order to make money. But these bad apples do NOT represent the bunch.
Where I, as a special education lawyer, fit in to this mix is just to make sure the disabled child (and his/her parents) have a voice and to assure that school districts are meeting the requirements to provide the child with a Free Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”). My job, as I see it, is to level the playing field. Sometimes that simply means legally justifying or backing up what the well-intentioned teacher is already trying to do, but for whatever reason the school administration is not permitting. Frequently, I work with and speak with teachers (the old line, ‘Some of my best friends are teachers’ ha ha – but it’s true) as a team. We work together to find solutions for the children.
If you walk away after reading this blog post with ANYTHING, please keep the idea that special education lawyers, advocates and parents do not hate teachers. We love them. We love them just as much as the disabled children we are trying to help.
So let’s work together in this area of law. Do not generate stereotypes that only serve to interfere with cooperation and progress in the field of special education law. Our children deserve better.