I am a certified special education teacher K-12. I will be retiring in two years and would like to become a special education advocate.
What is the first step?
You are wise to prepare ahead of time.
Pete and Pam have built the Wrightslaw website and written the books that cover the information base needed for advocacy.
The first step: work your way through the website, books, and training CDs at https://www.wrightslaw.com/
- If you have not attended a due process hearing in the course of your work, watch the Surviving Due Process CD.
- Attend a Wrightslaw Boot Camp. The registration fee to attend a training conference will include several books. Factor this in when you buy books, unless you do not mind ending up with duplicates.
- Read the complete federal special education and general education statutes and regulations.
- Read your state special education and general education statutes and regulations. Also, read your state bullying and harassment laws and state case law.
- Take all the advocacy training classes that you can find.
- Use the Wrightslaw Yellow Pages for Kids to find resources in your state.
- After you have taken several advocacy training classes, volunteer as an advocate for at least a year with an organization such as your state Parent Training and Information Center.
- Ask one the advocates that you have worked with over the past 25 years to mentor you for the volunteer period and at least 2 years after you begin private practice. Chose someone who successfully works with the effective parent attorneys in your state.
- Look for the entities in your state that you will use for ongoing education once you retire. If these are membership organizations, such as the International Dyslexia Association, Autism Society, NAMI, etc., join them now.
- Subscribe to all the free advocacy newsletters and legislative alerts that you come across.
- Visit all the private special education schools and programs in your area.
- Once you are no longer employed by a school district you will be eligible to join the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA). Once you become a member, plan to attend the annual 2-day preconference trainings as often as you can.
I come across many good teachers who think of themselves as advocates for children.
Although there is some overlap in the knowledge base, education and advocacy are separate fields and require separate knowledge and skills.
If you start out on your venture knowing that it is a very separate field of work, you will learn what you need to know sooner, in greater depth, and with far more ease.
I am a former special education teacher and a current special education advocate. The passion for support kids is the common thread. The biggest portion of my job is to educate the parents to become better advocates for their own child(ren). In doing so, I utilize good teaching skills every day. Other IEP team members can receive up-to-date education on alternative teaching strategies, adapted curriculum choices, and increased knowledge of the ever-changing rules and regulations from the federal and state legal codes. I consider my background as a former special educator, a huge plus in my practice. I believe your background will support you as well. Interning with a seasoned advocate is a great idea.
I met some teachers who view it as part-time work after retirement. You have to change your mindset and know that advocacy is work, advocacy is a calling and advocacy is a commitment that may take more time than you realized as it goes beyond just attending PPT meetings and paperwork. Yes, all teachers are advocates in many ways. In this case for this type of job, some are called to teach and others are called to become “special education advocates.”
I commend your passion for making a difference in the lives of children.
Don’t let the culture shock discourage you. It will only demonstrate how much parents/students need you in this role.
My wife and I navigated the public educational system to obtain meaningful educational services for our child. We began with 0% academic progress one school year (and being told by school administrators that not all kids will graduate high school) to watching our child graduate high school #9 out of 424 and on to holding a 3.86 GPA while earning a computer science degree.
Don’t let anyone tell you that it will be easy and never under estimate the value of helping just one more child write their own success story.
Good luck !