Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy

The Special Education Survival Guide by Pam Wright & Pete Wright

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The Intimidation Factor

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group of people sitting at table Most parents feel intimidated at school meetings.

At a parent meeting, I listened to a conversation between two fathers. Both men had children with learning and attention problems.

One father, a businessman who specialized in marketing and sales, confessed:

I always feel anxious and intimidated when I go to school for a meeting about my daughter. I start to feel anxious before I even get to the school. By the time I get to the parking lot, my stomach is in knots. I feel intimidated. When they ask me what I think, I don't know what to say. Being speechless is usually not a problem for me!

I know my daughter is not learning. I know she is falling further behind. I know that I'm worried about her, but I don't know exactly what they need to do differently. When they ask what I want them to do, I don't know what to say. I'm not a teacher.

Aren't they supposed to be the experts?

The other dad, a physician and father of two handicapped kids, responded:

Boy! Do I know that feeling! There is something about this process -- this team business where you sit around a big table. It's just you, the parent, on one side, and six or seven school people on the other side.

I always feel intimidated when I go to meetings at the school.

I feel like I did when I was about eight years old and had to go to the principal's office. I was in big trouble then and it feels like I'm in big trouble now!

School Teams Make Decisions

All important decisions about educating a child with a disability are made by committees or "teams." In most cases, these teams include several school representatives -- and one intimidated parent.

For most parents, school is unfamiliar turf. Meetings are usually held at schools, giving schools the "home field advantage."

Given these dynamics, it is not surprising that most parents feel intimidated.

How do people react when they feel intimidated? Some get defensive. Some get anxious and try to reassure school staff that they aren't a threat. Others wilt under the pressure.

Impact of Your Personal History

Your personal school experiences will affect your feelings about teachers, schools, and school meetings. Depending on your experiences, your feelings will be positive or negative.

If you experienced school as a supportive place, your positive expectations about school will transfer to your child's situation. You will expect the school to provide a supportive environment for your child. If school was a place that has negative associations, you may expect that these feelings will transfer to the present .


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