During this current “political season” my thoughts frequently turn to how we, as a culture, society, country, and educational community, take care of and provide for our children, especially our children with exceptional needs. I have often found that my role as a teacher and as an advocate is ambiguous.
A teacher’s role in advocacy can be unclear . . . we can get messages from administration that we should “be careful” with how, what, when, and where we make decisions regarding services for our students. We can be told about not crossing an unstated line between what is considered “Cadillac” services and “Chevrolet” services, about what is considered “FAPE” (free and appropriate public education) and what is not necessary for FAPE to be met.
As teachers, we need to be competent through a deep understanding and knowledge of our purposes, subject matter, and our students; and a broad range of skills in delivering teaching and learning services and activities where our students thrive and learn. Demonstrating these competencies will provide confidence and assurances that you are making the right and appropriate decisions for your students.
As advocates, we need to continually look for opportunities to improve the lives of our students with disabilities. Many of the conflicting messages we receive as teachers stem from policy and funding issues. There are many ways to participate in advocacy activities, from our membership in CEC to active involvement in the legislative process.
In the area of government, I look for opportunities to write to my elected representatives about ways to improve services to children with exceptional needs and I support the candidates of my choice through donations and working on their campaigns. I have participated in phone calling, door knocking, and driving candidates to see the constituency (I live in a rural environment). I try to personally meet as many of my elected representatives as I can. I schedule appointments with them in their offices in Washington, D.C. or meet them at events in my own state and community. I write letters to my local newspapers so my local representatives see my views.
I have seen how my advocacy has improved the lives of students with disabilities through the years . . . it has been meaningful and important work in my career.