If Educators Won’t Support Parents of Children Who Are Struggling, Who Will?

Updated: Jun 23

By Beckett Haight

This post was originally published at Collections of a Special Educator and has been edited for clarity. It contains affiliate links.

  • If your child is “failing” one or more classes but is planning to party or chill this weekend, this article is for you.

  • If your child had an in-school suspension two weeks ago, but you can’t remember what consequences you gave them when you found out, this is for you.

  • If your child’s grade is a “60%” in two or more classes but still has the latest iPhone, read this.

  • If you are a case manager for a student with disabilities who is struggling, and this sounds familiar, this article is for you.

Students with disabilities sometimes need exceptional parents.

Most parents who have children who are typically developing are like teachers who work in high performing districts; just don’t mess the students up and for the most part and they will be fine. Right?

My experience working four years in the Palo Alto Unified School District in Silicon Valley as a teacher assistant and doing my student teaching there I have seen first-hand that you don’t necessarily need the best teachers to get the best test scores or college placements. The students in Palo Alto were routinely scoring at the top range of schools in California, and some of the schools I worked in were ranked top 100 in the United States. From time to time, I hear teachers mention how the students are coming with the tools, and the teachers just need not hinder them.

I know that’s not entirely true of course as you find English Language Learners, students with disabilities everywhere, including in these high performing districts.

And that is what I mean with saying that if you have a child who hasn’t experienced childhood trauma, or doesn’t have a learning disability, then the job of a parent is just to keep them moving and make sure they hit their milestones. And if you make some mistakes along the way, or go into cruise control with one child while another child is in crisis or you go through a divorce, your child will most likely be okay.

But when the child has some extra needs, that is where teachers and parents have to be good (or above average), implement best practices, be organized, set clear expectations, or follow through with setting limits. They can’t just sit back and relax.

Their game has to be tight…

…or in other words, you have to be an exceptional parent when you have a student with unique needs.

And to add a level of complexity to this need to “be good or better than good” is the reality that many of the unique needs of the students I have worked with over the years are either genetic or somewhat genetic (i.e., they say ADHD is a mix of genetic and environmental).

If I have a student who is impulsive and has difficulties in some areas of executive functioning, I often find that one of the parents has similar struggles. This makes it hard for them to develop and stick with behavior plans that I create with them, be consistent, react reasonably (i.e., not ground the student for the rest of the year and throw their phone away and then have to backtrack and lose credibility).

Special Education Teachers are Sometimes the Only People Willing to Give Parenting Advice

Parents need help learning tools to help their child, or else their child will continue to struggle behaviorally, socially, or academically. I have found over the years that the friends and family of these parents usually don’t want to sully the relationship by providing these parents with parenting advice. The general education teachers are not the student’s case managers and are just focused on content, and the administration at the school are too busy (or fears push back).

So from my standpoint, that leaves the special educator to help provide a sort of wrap-around service in effect. Supporting the family in developing their best practices so that the child/student can be the most successful.

Good Teachers Are Not Usually Born, and Neither Are Good Parents

When I first started teaching, I had a mentor teacher who taught me a lot about the field of Special Education and shared a trove of anecdotes.

She told me that back when she started back in the 1970s, part of her job as a special educator was actually to give parenting classes periodically. Once a week or once a month. When she told me this in my pre-pubescent teaching stage, I didn’t think much of it. But after years of working with parents who displayed behaviors that were antithetical to what could help their child, I felt that I understood where Sandy and her generation was coming from when they felt the need to teach these classes.

People sometimes argue that teaching is an innate ability; that many good teachers are naturals. However, I don’t subscribe to that belief. I feel that people with a “natural ability” can be great teachers, and do it more easily, but I also feel that you need to be taught the best practices. It’s like an artist who doesn’t study the masters. Or a musician who doesn’t know where all of this music came from. You need to go to that art school and get those foundations before you set off and get known. You need to spend that time in Julliard and learn about “metric modulation and serialism” before you go on and try to tackle the world of music and do your own thing.

In that same vein, if you want to be a good parent, you can hope that your natural abilities will take you there, but for the majority, you have to learn! You have to be made aware of the best practices. You need to test them out. You need someone to help guide you. If not, the best case scenario may be that you are going to get to your second child or third before it clicks and you hit your parenting stride.

I feel that if you are already trying to be a good parent, you are a step ahead. If you are out there reading blogs, and books, and reaching out for help, you are the one that is going to have success more likely. But I understand that so many things can get in the way. You are working full time, dealing with outside of work issues, trying to have some fun, and trying to keep your marriage alive. We don’t always have time to pick up Dr. Lipshits new book on the latest fad in parenting, speaking metaphorically.

Things come up with your child, you deal with it, and if it doesn’t pan out, you try better next time. But sometimes years pass like that, and one day, if you are lucky to realize it, you find that things aren’t going as planned. You have enabled your child to do a lot of things that have led to ways of being that aren’t the most desirable.

This is to say that 10 or 12 years have passed and you find yourself with a child that is a bully or smoking weed, or in juvenile hall, or is often dishonest. And unfortunately, a lot of times the people closest to you aren’t comfortable letting you know what’s up. Or maybe they do, and you get reactive and defensive, or you just think they don’t understand. That’s where I argue the special educator can help (if the child has a case manager or is working with Multi-Tiered Systems of Support or Response to Intervention).

What Special Educators Can do to Support Parents

Here is a list some of the things I subscribe to as a special educator as it relates to helping guide parents to best practices:

  1. I work with the idea that we should have a sort of wraparound service going on…everyone involved. We work with all types of services and supports and expectations to help the whole child move forward.

  2. If the following things are occurring at home, I as the case manager can help out and support the parent in developing some best practices:

  3. Parent hasn’t checked the grades of the student who is failing current classes and will be kicked out in a few months due to academic probation. They