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Dear Mr./Ms. General Education Teacher,

I just heard you’ll be my daughter’s mainstream teacher this year. Congratulations! You are so lucky. I’m not sure how many special education students you’ve had mainstream into your class, but each and every one will always add something incredible to the class dynamic. Everyone will grow, learn, and remember this year a little bit more than others. That goes for you, too! Here are a few things I must ask of you…

  1. Treat her like every other student. She’s just another kid in the class. Make sure you speak to her in the same way, with the same tone and at the same volume as you do other children. Her hearing isn’t affected by her Autism, and yet, some people think they need to speak louder. It might take her longer to process all the things you’re saying, so have patience, but no need to overly simplify your language. She is a student in your classroom, on your roster. Please treat her like she belongs there.
  2. Presume competence. She’s got a lot going on in that head of hers. She is very capable and very determined when she’s encouraged and gets the message that someone believes in her. Believe in her. Provide the same opportunities to her as you do your other students. She is competent. Raise the bar. She may not always be able to reach it, but let her know you believe she will one day.
  3. Make sure she’s welcomed. Before she joins your class, take time to explain to your other students how and why everyone deserves a spot in class, deserves to feel like they are wanted and belong. Here’s a list of books you can even share with them to explain disabilities! Encourage them to reach out and try to engage my child. Too often kids like mine are sent the message that they don’t count, don’t belong. Drive home that every student belongs. Let them know that your classroom is a place where everyone is treated the same- which brings me to my next point.
  4. Inclusion benefits everyone. It provides your typical kids the opportunity to learn to meet, engage and befriend someone different from them. It fosters independence, pride, and compassion. Find those compassionate kids, encourage them to sit with my child at lunch, play on the playground, and maybe even after school. Friendships don’t come easily to my daughter. I’ll depend on you to let me know if there are students I can reach out to for weekend play dates. Inclusion can be a real-life anti-bullying campaign.
  5. Communicate honestly with me. When we meet and discuss her progress, tell me how she’s really doing in your class. Please don’t patronize me with “she’s doing great!” if the subtext is “for the special ed kid.” I rely on you to help shape her educational experience and help me decide where to place her in the future and in which environments she will best thrive.
  6. Expect to fall in love. If you embrace being a part of my child’s team, you’ll never want out! Once my child touches your heart (and she will most definitely touch your heart), you’ll probably become an advocate for her and for other students like her. You’ll feel overwhelming joy when she understands lessons that once seemed too tough and meets milestones that once seemed too far reaching. You might just remember why you became a teacher in the first place and find a renewal of energy and spirit! Yes, just one student can make that much difference in the life of a teacher- and one teacher can make that much difference in the life of a child like mine.

Got a #7? Would you add anything to this list?