Guest Contributor: Gayle Shimoff, MA, Learning Disabilities and Reading Specialist
There are many children in Israel who struggle with AD/HD or learning disabilities, who do not receive services because the “system” does not have enough resources to support their needs. There are many ways however, for parents and teachers to work together to foster academic success, despite the limited resources of the school system. Good will goes a long way and can often be more helpful than the two hours a week of shaot MATYA (remedial teaching) offered to some LD students. Informed, proactive parents, who approach their children’s schools as partners in education, as opposed to antagonists of the “system,” will be more successful in helping their children.
Here are some ideas to help you develop a productive working relationship with the staff in your child’s school and effectively help him succeed.
Don’t fight the system, learn to work with it!
There are aspects of the educational system in Israel that need improvement, especially when it comes to educating and integrating children with disabilities. It will not help your children however, if you tell their teachers or principal what they need to be doing differently, implying that you think you know better than they do. When interacting with school staff, let them know:
- You recognize and appreciate their daily challenges.
- You understand the constraints of the system to provide your child with everything he needs and appreciate the staff’s efforts.
- You are there to be a team player, and respect their knowledge and experience.
Learn about the System
Take time to learn about the Israeli school system in general as well as the educational rights and accommodations delineated in the law for students with learning disabilities. As an informed parent, aware of the cultural differences inherent to our schools, you will be less inclined to respond emotionally to problems and more equipped to offer creative solutions.
אחרי החגים – After the holidays
Learn to breathe and accept the reality that many schools do not swing into full gear until “after the holidays,” that being Succot. Between September first and the holidays the school staff is finalizing class schedules, having staff meetings and making decisions about their budget and services. During this period you should ask for and have a team meeting or Vaadat Shiluv (a formal team meeting which takes place in the school). Discuss and begin planning for your child’s educational needs, so goals can begin in earnest immediately after the holiday break. (Do insist, however, that your team meeting take place before Succot — and at that time, set a date and time for the next meeting!)
Getting the Staff to Work With You
You understand your child’s needs best and unless you are new to the world of special education, probably know which strategies and accommodations would be most effective for him or her. Be prepared with a plan of action. Your child is more likely to receive help if you work with the staff to make this happen, instead of expecting them to do it. Keep the following suggestions in mind when meeting with the staff in your child’s school:
- Make suggestions, not demands. Formulate your ideas as suggestions and work them gently into the conversation, so that the teacher or staff member can take ownership of the final plan. This will certainly increase the chances of its being put into action.
- Reports aren’t read, they’re filed. Psycho-educational and didactic evaluations are quite long and are not usually read or understood completely by teachers. Avoid being frustrated by this, but find a way for them to understand and remember the conclusions and recommendations of the assessment. I suggest providing each teacher with a laminated index card containing your contact information and highlighting 3-4 important points you want them to remember about your child. Ask the teachers to keep the card in their lesson planners, which will enable them to refer to it quickly and frequently throughout the school year.
- Teacher qualifications vary. Depending on the age and schooling of your child’s teachers, their knowledgeable about specific LD/ADD issues vary greatly. Although teacher’s colleges now require teachers to take courses about learning disabilities, don’t be surprised if they are unfamiliar with specific disabilities like NVLD, SI and Asperger’s.
Throughout the Year
Teachers, parents and students start off the new school year enthusiastic and eager to make this year successful. Schedules get hectic, teachers are absent on maternity leave, winter sets in and sometimes we forget some of the promises we made in the beginning of the school year. Although the very nature of living interferes with our best laid plans at times, neglect effects the education of learning disabled students badly. Here are a few ideas which may help minimize this problem.
- Regular communication with all of your child’s teachers. Ask EACH and EVERY one of your child’s teachers to set a time for a short phone meeting with you on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. There are three purposes. First, remind the teacher about your child’s specific difficulties and find out how he is being accommodated, (ie. copying from the board, keeping up despite a slow reading rate). Then ask about the new material, homework, tests, for the coming week so you can pre-teach and/ or review with your child. Lastly, review the testing accommodations/ exemptions your child should have for that particular subject.
- Assigned seats don’t last. Appropriate seating is very important for children with specific learning disabilities. Israeli classes are typically large and sometimes unruly and teachers often move children’s seats for logistical or behavioral reasons. Check periodically throughout the year, and with all the specialty teachers, that your child is seating in a place that is best for him. If this is an important issue for your child, then don’t assume he or she will keep the same seat for the whole year.
Here are some examples of how seating can be difficult for some children:
- CAPD: Not near the door or window or chatty kids, but in front of the teacher.
- AD/HD: Not near kids who will distract him, are trouble makers or get him into trouble, towards the back so he can take stretching breaks without disturbing other students.
- Writing problems: Closer to the board, near a good student who can be a copying buddy.
The role of parent as advocate is a daunting task under the best of circumstances and understandingly overwhelming and sometimes frustrating in an unfamiliar school system. The system is not perfect, but within the system is a wealth of caring and dedicated professionals. By getting to know the system and learning to work effectively with teachers and school staff, parents can make a big difference.
Some of the supplementary insurance packages subsidize educational evaluations: