As a student, I remember being taught how to advocate for myself. I remember advocating for myself by standing up for myself, by speaking up when something wasn’t right, by educating those around me. For me, self advocacy took form through my voice; in speaking up for myself and in making others aware.
As a student, I used my voice to express concerns to my teachers. I used my voice to express my experiences and share my concerns. I used my voice to justify the accommodations I needed, to explain that a cochlear implant doesn’t make me a “hearing person”, to make others aware.
As a student, I attended my own IEP meetings, quiet at first until I grew confident enough to run the meetings as much as I was allowed and able. I sat in my meetings, always educating those around me. Meetings which consisted, annually, of my advocating and fighting for myself and my rights. A fight which never truly ended.
As an aspiring educator, I remember being taught that parents can be on your side, but they can also make your job tougher. I remember hearing this and thinking back on my own IEP meetings. Is that what my teachers thought? Was my advocacy and the advocacy my mom put forth on my behalf making their jobs harder?
As an aspiring educator, I attended IEP meetings and watched parents unaware of their rights or who weren’t given the platform to speak up. I used my voice to express my concerns to my professors and peers regarding our profession and how we view student and parent voice and input when it comes to IEPs.
As an aspiring educator, I used my own experiences as a deaf child with an IEP to build a foundation and open the conversation for critical thinking and inquiry for my peers regarding the true meaning of advocacy.
As a teacher, I see myself as an advocate for not only my students, but for their parents as well. I advocate for my students needs, which include ensuring theirs and their families voices are heard and have the space to be heard in IEP meetings.
As a teacher, I use my voice to not only advocate for my students and their individual needs, but I use my voice to educate their peers on what inclusion and acceptance really mean. I use my voice as an extension of my students’ to create a school community that has done all they can to embrace diversity.
As a teacher, I attend IEP meetings with high hopes that the parents in my meetings are comfortable to speak their truth and advocate for their child. I attend IEPs knowing the parent and the child are the glue to the team, that their voices are what matter. I attend these meetings with the distant memory of my own IEP meetings; remembering how overwhelmed I’d get by teachers speaking, how fast I’d tune out by the technical jargon, and how transparent I felt when the team talked about me as if I wasn’t there.
As a student, my experiences influenced the heightened awareness I developed as an aspiring educator which shaped my approach as a teacher.
As a teacher and as a special education case manager, here's what I want to say...
To the students out there, speak up and use your voice. It holds more power than you realize. Even if you have to say the same thing over and over, there will be one person who hears you and ensures you are heard going forward. It only takes one person, but that person won't hear you if you don't speak your truth or if you don't speak your advocacy.
To the parents, there is no IEP team without you, you are the glue. With you, we as educators can best help your child; our student. With your input, we can maximize potential. With your support, we can provide a team which will foster your child's limitless growth. Without you, there are limits to what we can do for your child. We need you and we need your voice, there is a space for both at the IEP meeting and every day before and after that meeting.