How Teachers Serve as Advocates for Students with Disabilities

Instructor: Lori Sturdivant

Lori has a specialist's degree in Instructional Leadership/Mild Moderate and currently serves as the Lead Teacher for The University of Southern Mississippi's Autism Project.

Are you concerned with the legal and ethical issues surrounding teacher advocacy for students with disabilities? This lesson will discuss these issues as well as the qualities and characteristics of an efficient advocate.

Teachers as Advocates

As a teacher advocate, you support students by speaking up about what students want, what they need and what their rights are. This is particularly important for students with disabilities who may be less inclined to speak up for themselves.

In addition to being a voice for your students, you serve to inform your students (and their families). You help them understand their rights in school and in the community. You also form partnerships with different groups and organizations to make sure students can access the services they need. In general, you're a connection between students and the world outside the classroom, and you close the gap between students' needs and the tools that can help them succeed.

Keep in mind that teacher advocates assist--they do not make decisions for the students. It is imperative to remember that, as a teacher advocate, you are a voice for the student, not of the student.

Being an Advocate for Students with Disabilities

While all student benefit from teachers as advocates, advocate teachers are especially important for students with disabilities, particularly special education students. But how do you actually be an advocate?

Well, advocacy can be as simple as having one-on-one conversations with parents to ensure each individual student is having their special education needs met. Or it can be as in-depth as speaking before a local school board or the state department of education to guarantee access to special education services. But perhaps most importantly, students must be able to confide in their teacher advocates, so you must be:

  • Sensitive to cultural differences
  • Sensitive to varying disabilities and how they affect students and their families
  • Honest, trustworthy and dependable
  • Assertive yet tactful
  • Patient and persistence

You should also consider the legal and ethical concerns of advocacy for students with disabilities--to protect not only your students, but also yourself. Let's explore these concerns more.

Legal and Ethical Concerns

As teachers, we are often confronted with ethical and legal dilemmas that may cause emotional turmoil. How we deal with these issues at school is based on the specific situation, our willingness to engage and the level of support we receive. And unfortunately, our sense of doing what is right to help our students can be dimmed by the political climate, policies (or lack of them), minimal resources and even lack of knowledge.

Speaking up and being an advocate in situations where injustices occur is often a difficult decision to make, but you have a legal duty to protect students, their rights and their privacy. Use the following principles to guide you as an educator and an advocate:

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