Popular vs. Effective
Not a Popularity Contest
A long-time Indiana parent advocate wrote this story in 2004, when asked about the results of being an ardent advocate for kids:
“I generally tell parents that if they are the subject of discussion in their local school, then they most likely are doing a good job advocating for a special needs child.
At some point, we all must make a decision as to whether we want to be popular or effective. It is difficult to be both, particularly when we advocate for such controversial issues. While everyone wants to be liked, taking action so that your child becomes an independent, self-sufficient, tax-paying citizen seems to me to be much more important.
When my daughter graduated from high school, I requested all her records, which, by the way were maintained in the safe at the high school. (When I asked the superintendent why my daughter's records were the only ones being kept in the high school safe, he replied, "Mrs. X, I can only speculate.")
When I reviewed the records, I discovered that every elementary school teacher kept a spiral notebook, where they were required, each day, to write down exactly what had occurred with my daughter. If either my husband or I went to school, they wrote down (from their perspective, of course) every word that we said. Since they had no idea I would ever see their notes, they were brutally honest about how they felt, not only about me, but about my innocent child. At one point, one of teachers speculated as to whether my daughter's connective tissue disorder was merely a figment of my imagination. She did not believe my daughter was "sick", even though she had watched my daughter dislocate her thumb while washing her hands at school on several occasions.
On another occasion, I had volunteered to help with the Valentine's Day party at school, only to be told that the teacher had quite enough help, thank you anyway. I came to the party and brought cookies. The teacher's notes that day stated, "I told Mrs. Howey that we did not need her help for the party. She came anyway and brought cookies. I DON'T KNOW WHY SHE WAS HERE."
The teacher was so paranoid, she couldn't understand why I came to the party and BROUGHT COOKIES, for heaven's sake. I'm sure she probably didn't eat any, thinking I had poisoned them.
The moral of this story is, once you have a "reputation" for being an effective advocate for your child, you can be as nice and pleasant as you want; you will still most likely be regarded as the "enemy". It doesn't matter how nice you are to the school staff and administration and it doesn't matter how nice the teachers are to your face. My daughter's third grade teacher was the "nicest" to me to my face. She appeared to be most understanding about my daughter's disability. Yet, she wrote the nastiest things in her notebook, not only about me but also about my daughter. At one point, when my daughter was complaining of pain and asking for pain medication (which was in her IEP), she wrote that she just told her to "be tough" and did not allow her to go to the office for her medication. At another point she wrote that I was rude because I never thanked her for "agreeing" to be my daughter's teacher. Funny. I didn't know teachers had the power to choose the kids that they wanted to teach, or more important, reject kids that they did not want in their class.
Moral of the too-long story: If you are the talk of the school -- and perhaps the town and if the talk is negative, you are much more powerful than you ever imagined. If you had no power, those in power would not hesitate to chastise you to your face.
When I look at my daughter today -- who incidentally will graduate from nursing school on Saturday -- being "unpopular" was worth every name I was ever called. My goal in life is not to be liked, but to be effective.
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