Helpful, Watchful Eyes Keep Us All In Check

Mary McLaughlin
Special Education Teacher

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A Rose By Any Other Name

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet." -William Shakespeare

I got married a year ago.

While it's a big-deal event in one's life, and it definitely was for Jack and me, we have each been married previously.

We met in September of 1980 in "Mr. Average Math Teacher's" math class. It was the first day of school. Not just SCHOOL…but one of the most important times in the life of most K-12 students: the first day of HIGH school.

I was completely thrilled to be in a school with over 2,000 other students in grades 10, 11, and 12.

I loved the idea that in high school, it wasn't GIRLS tennis-it was WOMENS tennis. It was Women's Swimming. It was Women's Softball.

It sounded so…grown up!

Entering the front doors of the building I'd enthusiastically and excitedly dreamed about for nine school years, caused me to go from the member of a team of girls to a team of women.

As I sat there and listened to Mr. Average Math Teacher talk about our first math lesson of the semester, my brain was working overtime to ascertain what the heck he was talking about.

When it was evident that I needed help, I decided to abandon my former philosophy of checking for the answers in the back of the book.

No way.

In my new approach to learning, I wanted to UNDERSTAND the material.

So, I turned around to see a sweetly handsome, blue-eyed, brown curly-haired boy staring at me.


"Hi. My name's Mary. Do you get this?"

"Hi, my name's Jack. Yeah, I do."

Fast-forward 38 years, between us we had three ex-spouses, six kids, nine grandkids, one Army Green Beret career (him-I'm so proud of him!), and a Teaching career (me).

Here I am, once again in the position of acquiring a new last name.

When I went to get my new driver's license, I was told I had a choice: I could provide a documented chain of last names OR I could go before a judge and be immediately granted a shiny and new last name.

Feeling a little bit like the soap opera vixen Erica Cane Martin Brent Cudahy Chandler Marick Marick (yes, twice) Montgomery Montgomery Chandler (yep, she married him again), I decided to just go to court.

I was, like many children, born with the last name of a man I'd never known. Having it legally changed to reflect my Legal Guardians' last name made sense to us all.

Then getting married once, twice, then three times, it would be nearly impossible to provide evidence of that chain of names using the required original paperwork.

All the names left me feeling a little bit like The United States of Mary.

In all honesty, most of the needed paperwork had been misplaced over the years.

At ten bucks a page to photocopy all the needed documents, I'd have needed to take a loan, take on another job, or sell my car.

Seeing a judge was the easier ticket.

So here I sit-legally Mary McLaughlin.

But the Judge really gave me a bit of a time.

The Judge was reluctant to sign the paperwork which I was assured by my lawyer would be quickly rubberstamped.

I figured I'd be on my way to brunch with the ladies in no time.

Uh, nope.

While the Judge dissolved no fewer than three marriages in less than twenty minutes, my case took nearly forty-five minutes.

I know, right?

Why, why, WHY???? Quiche Lorraine was calling my name.

Because of his thorough review of my Petition, he was concerned about one missing component in my Petition For Name Change: a list of all the last names I have used over the years.

Okay…fair enough. That makes sense.

When he initially said he wouldn't grant my Petition, I must have had a look on my face that was so sad and pathetic because before I knew it, he offered a solution to the problem.

Finally I was legally Mary McLaughlin.

The Benefit of Second Looks For Special Educators

How many Special Education Teachers do paperwork? There should be 100% of the hands in the air.

We complain about how much there is, we complain about the time we have to give up to complete it, we complain about how much there is to track, we complain about meeting after meeting after meeting consuming our time. we complain about all the assessing we have to do.

But in the end, we know it's necessary.

If we're really honest with ourselves, we know that a child who comes to us in the Fall will have made gains of some type come May.

Perfect gains? No, to be sure. But gains, nonetheless.

In the Individualized Education Plan for each student, we once again fire up our pens every school quarter and document the percentage of progress toward the goal made by each child.

We send home progress reports.

We keep in contact.

We ask questions.

We listen to answers.

We take notes.

We document, document, document.

We put together what we believe is a well-written draft IEP.

Until we're told we don't document enough so we don't have enough data to put into the Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP) statement.

Aw, man! Just when you thought what you had was great, you're told you need more data, more data, more data!

At first we're annoyed because we thought we had done the leg work and spent the year gathering information.

Then we realize that what we've been told is the honest truth.

We create our Notice of Action document. We think our statements are perfect, smooth, accurately written, reflecting across all the paperwork and linking together all the information so our IEP's will stand strong for our precious students' next school year.

…and then we're shown what needs to be fixed because it didn't link just like we needed it to…or thought it had.

In the end, by the very nature of those extra eyes reviewing our paperwork, the opportunity for unnecessary Due Process hearings is being greatly reduced or diminished altogether.

So What's This Rose Called?

The names may vary but the job responsibility remains the same: use the acquired expertise acquired in the field of Special Education in tandem with knowledge of Special Education rules, regulations, and law of their own state and the Federal levels to ensure OUR paperwork is done correctly.

The job requires equal parts Special Ed. Teacher, the skills of a lawyer, knowledge of the district and state requirements, kindness, firmness, and an ability to be organized beyond the typical.

I'm not sure about anyone else, but I take great comfort in knowing someone is supporting my efforts.

In some districts, the job is titled Due Process Designee.

In some, Special Education Designee.

In others, there is someone who is a member of the district's Special Education services area.

In many small districts, the district's Special Education Director assumes this role.

But a rose is a rose is a rose….

"Fear is a good thing. It means you're paying attention." --Tamora Pierce

It is a challenge to keep everything balanced, T's crossed, and I's dotted. We are the Special Education TEACHERS. Our title says it all. Well, at least it used to.

In this current day, our title only communicates part of the job's numerous responsibilities.

Even though the title hasn't changed and the responsibilities have increased what may feel like exponentially, we are blessed to live in an era when support is not just a hallway, a few doors, a phone call, or maybe an email away.

Getting our "organizational groove on" is only a keystroke away. We can access information to get informed and grow our skillsets.

Check out all these tools as we gear up for our beloved season of Annual Review meetings:

  • As usual for Pinterest, you'll need to dig through and find which of these resources best meets the needs of your situation. There is an abundance of tracking sheets for assessment, behavior, and more. The amount and types of data for which our students require tracking is vast. There should be something to meet your needs here.
  • The site Autism News and Classroom is a wealth of information for ALL Teachers of SpEd. There are training videos, an online academy, resources for purchase, ideas, news, and for us hyper-visual people, videos explaining certain tools. This site is a gem, in my opinion.
  • Here is a Power Point of your responsibilities and ideas for what you'll need at the meeting. Very informative.
  • One district's checklist provides a useful basis for creating one to meet your district's specific needs/requirements.
  • I really liked the specificity of this tool for before, during, and after the meetings. It even notes the specific people to whom certain things should be sent.
  • This is a very thorough procedural checklist for prior to the meeting (for the sake of preparation) and an agenda-of sorts-for during the meeting. There is also a list of To-Do's for after the meeting. This could also be easily modified to meet your district specifications.
  • Teachers Pay Teachers has a plethora of resource choices to make your preparations flow more smoothly.
  • Maybe you need to watch a video. Check out this excellent resource featuring specifics about the Annual Review called Idea Basics: Annual Review
  • Check out Preparing for the Annual Review (45 minutes)
  • Visit with your district's Special Education Services personnel to review what is available for you as you prepare for your meetings.

Be Grateful, Be Proactive, Be Prepared

You have worked hard serving the students in your Special Education classes. You have assessed, documented, monitored, and adjusted. You've made every effort to meet the goals established in the students' IEP's for this school year.

Now is the time where you share the results of all those efforts.

This time of the year is extraordinarily busy for "our people" but we are able to make it be a positive time as we share the outcomes with the IEP Team members.

Everyone has a vested interest in the success of the students we all serve.

If you're nervous about doing it right-be honest about it. Having been a former building leader, I'd by far prefer to work with a person who is more concerned about ensuring accuracy than about being right.

You will do great!

Oh, and if I didn't mention it, I'm a bit nervous, too.

Mary McLaughlin

Mary has always loved learning, but was a struggling learner who couldn’t read until one day, the right teacher came along with the right methodology, and everything clicked for Mary. Understanding the struggles of children who just “don’t get it,” Mary has spent her career supporting children with learning difficulties and finding ways to excite them about education. Over her career, Mary has taught Second Grade, Third Grade, and served as a Middle School Administrator in Michigan, most often in the urban setting. In 2015, Mary relocated to Arkansas in search of new opportunities and is excited at all that has been placed before her. She currently teaches Special Education in a self-contained setting for children in grades 2-4.
Mary McLaughlin