Several weeks ago I read about Bloggers Unite. It's a website that is attempting to harness the power of the blogosphere to make the world a better place by asking member bloggers to write about a particular subject on the same day. I like the idea of millions of voices in the blogosphere united to make a difference. This is my first effort.
For several years I served as Director of Special Education for a large, rural Eastern Oregon school district. I started a parent support group so I could get to know the parents of the children we served and hear about their concerns for their children's educations. I really thought that the parent group would be a bitch fest for parents who were unhappy with the school district. As an administrator I saw the group as a way to get in front of the problems and address parental concerns before they got out of hand.
Regular readers of my other blog know that I have written before of how the universe has a way of presenting us with lessons that we need to learn. Little did I know that the parent group was an opportunity for me to grow in my understanding of people with disabilities.
Special education is a challenging field. There are so many rules and regulations that guide what has to be done, and what can't be done, and what should be done. And, a lot of the stress in the job boils down to money. Although the federal government doesn't provide sufficient resources, federal law requires that appropriate services are provided free of charge. There is a tension between the parents and the schools...one group wants resources that the other holds, the other wants to make sure that the resources get to everyone who needs them. The law sees no limit on resources, but in the trenches the reality is that the resources are not unlimited. Every dollar that is spent is a dollar that isn't available to other kids.
So, as director I was immersed in managing the budget and making it stretch. Every day I worried about having sufficient funding to meet all of the real and perceived needs. I lost sight of the human side of my job. The parent group dragged me right back into that reality. The parents shared their hopes and dreams for their children in our meetings. They shared their frustrations and challenges. They learned from each other. And I was provided a window into life with a severely disabled child and I learned empathy.
I am grateful for the lesson that I learned working with special education students and their parents.