What do we tell our kid’s teachers about our child’s learning challenges? Do we say anything? Will we scare them off?
Whether to tell a teacher about your child’s learning difficulties is a personal decision. I don’t know your child or your teacher, but here are some guidelines:
- Does your child have issues that will be obvious to anyone who spends time with them? (You may need to ask a trusted neighbor or relative. Living with an exceptional child, we tend to adjust to behaviors others may find annoying, distracting, or just odd.)
- How well do you know this teacher? If the child has invisible disabilities that you don’t often disclose, do you have reason to believe this teacher will keep confidences? Does the co-op have a policy about keeping this information confidential?
- Do you know of others with kids with similar challenges who have worked with this teacher?
- If your child’s behavior or needs might make it hard for them to participate in the class, it’s only fair to your child, the teacher, and to yourself to discuss this with the teacher in advance. If you start a class and later have to drop out, you may have prevented another child from joining the class and you may be lose money if tuition is non-refundable. Most of these groups operate on a modest budget, and some have promised to pay a teacher based on number of students.
Small group classes can enrich your homeschool. They can give your child valuable experience, a place to practice social skills, and great preparation for college. I don’t see how I could have homeschooled without the groups where my son took classes. For our last seven years of homeschooling, he took one or two classes most years: viola, Spanish, biology, chemistry, mock trial, composition, geometry, English, and design and technology. Since I don’t know viola, Spanish, judicial practice, or how to build anything, these group classes were a huge help.
These classes can also give you a precious hour of respite, especially if they are not co-ops (organizations that require your participation).
As a veteran homeschool mom of a son with invisible disabilities, and with eleven years teaching middle and high school age kids in co-ops, I have these suggestions:
Begin your conversation with the teacher by expressing gratitude. I don’t mean a groveling, “I’m so glad you took my kid. No one else will!” Try a short, simple expression: “Thanks for teaching this class,” and whatever positive detail you can sincerely add: “Jon is eager to learn to draw better,” or “My friend Amy told us how much her daughter liked your class,” or “I am so glad you can teach my son Spanish. He wants to learn it, but I don’t speak it.”
Keep It Simple
Give a short description of your child’s challenges. If you start by sending a three-page email with links to six articles describing your child’s condition, their eyes will glaze over. If you begin your first conversation with a five-minute lecture, they may be tempted to duck next time they see you coming.
Mention Common Misconceptions
For example, if your child has a learning disability, explain that it doesn’t mean they aren’t smart. (I like to say, “He has trouble learning sometimes, but once he gets it, he can run with it.”) If they have a Nonverbal Learning Disability, you might better explain what that means instead of using that confusing term. Say that the child struggles to understand nonverbal communication.
Mention some of your child’s strengths that are relevant for this class.
Ask for Extra Help
Ask—don’t tell—what extra help you’d like for your child. Unless it’s a public school, and you have a signed, current IEP (Individualized Education Plan), they are not obligated to fulfill its terms.
Ask specifically for one or two things your child needs most. For example:
- for a child with an anxiety disorder, you might ask that the child not be asked questions in class the first couple weeks.
- for the student with dysgraphia, you might ask if assignments may be typed.
- for the distractible child, you might ask if the teacher print homework assignments or post them online.
(If your child needs more accommodations to succeed, discuss them before class starts—perhaps even before you register or soon after, before it’s too late to drop the class.)
Ask at Appropriate Times
Don’t ambush teachers with questions before or after class. Email or ask when’s a good time to call. When you call, ask if it’s a good time to talk because of the next point:
Be Respectful of Their Time
Remember these teachers have lives outside of helping you homeschool. I’ve known co-op teachers who were:
- homeschooling their own children
- caring for kids with chronic illnesses or special needs
- caring for parents with serious health problems
- single moms supporting their families.
Obviously, your co-op teacher should not have to disclose such personal struggles. I have no sympathy for those who believe they shouldn’t have to pay teachers. “The laborer is worthy of his [or her] hire.”
Because of their other commitments, we shouldn’t expect our co-op teachers to be on call 24⁄7. If they don’t reply, we should follow up that unanswered email again in 24 to 48 hours with a phone message (or vice versa), but not expect instant access.
Listen to what these teachers say about your child. Their observations can be invaluable. Don’t contradict them, though you can certainly say, “Wow! He’s never done that at home.” Thank them for their comments.
While almost all the parents of my students have been gracious, I know of parents who want to hear nothing about their child’s showing symptoms of a learning problem. Teachers usually aren’t qualified to diagnose, but if they’ve taught many students and never seen one like this, that’s worth listening to.
If the teachers are vague but seem helpful, ask them to be more specific. Not just “Janie seems spacey at times,” but how and when. If they say Will is distracting his classmates, ask what he is doing.
If you are distressed about what the teacher tells you about your child, it may be best to ask another time to talk, after you have had time to collect yourself.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Don’t confuse a teacher’s firmness or discomfort with distaste or prejudice. Walk in their shoes. Listening to you describe your child’s challenges, a co-op teacher may be thinking:
- “I’m already swamped with kids with challenges in this class.”
- “I’m already spending too much time on prep for these classes.”
- “I can’t help this kid. I’m not qualified.”
What has helped your child succeed in homeschool classes and co-ops? Please comment below.