This is the first in a series of articles discussing Successful IEP Teaching, written specifically TO the educator. Although I am writing it in this voice, it is equally helpful for anyone involved in Individual Education Programs, regardless of which side of the table you are sitting. I believe that if we all have the ability to keep an open mind and look at things from the perspective of another, we can learn to be more productive towards the main goal, helping students.
If you are a teacher who is frustrated by IEPís, you owe it to yourself to read this series with an open mind. If teaching is becoming a daily chore that you struggle to enjoy, maybe itís time to try a new approach.
We see a lot of information devoted to helping parents develop a better understanding of the IEP, but nothing for the teacher. As much as the parents struggle to understand and develop meaning about the specific purpose of this document, so do many teachers. To assume otherwise is misguided and ignores a significant part of the problem. However, with districts and educators stretched to their limits for time and resources, this is frequently overlooked. As a result, educators are lacking the support they need for teaching students with IEPís.
Any parent who has, in fact developed a reasonable level of IEP understanding and is able to practice some level of effective advocacy has probably witnessed some degree of what I am talking about. When you start asking specific, pointed questions in your IEP meetings, you will get any variation of INCORRECT answers.
If districts devoted a small amount of time and resources in the early stages of IEP development, it would alleviate the need for more time and money later on. It would increase the ability for the program to work and result in a more successful, less frustrating outcome for everyone involved.
Teaching a student with an Individual Education Program can be a very frustrating experience or an extremely rewarding one. The outcome isnít up to the student, but the teacher. In order to create a positive outcome, you first need to really understand what an IEP is, and what to do with it. Learn to use the IEP to your advantage. It is intended to help, not hinder.
When you receive a copy of your studentís IEP, you have been handed a detailed teaching manual for that child. What do you do with it? Do you read the document, or do you scan it and toss it into a file. Did you learn something about that child, or did you simply determine that he should be seated near the front of the classroom? Did you attend the IEP meeting? Did you attempt to communicate with the students parents about their childís educational needs? If you are one of the many teachers who do not fully understand the significance of the IEP document, you are not alone. Furthermore, you are missing a tremendous opportunity to not only make a huge difference in the life of a student who needs you, but to decrease your level of frustration in dealing with these types of programs. For many students, learning comes easy; they will succeed in spite of you. For some, learning is more difficult, for reasons beyond their control. It is a constant struggle that produces an ongoing cycle of failure followed by frustration for the teacher and the student. These are the students whose success or failure is in your hands.
What is an IEP?
- It is an Individual Education Program. A plan designed for one child; this child.
- It is a plan developed because a determination has been made that this child suffers from some type of disability that adversely affects his ability to learn, through no fault of his own.
- It is developed based on information gathered from a team of educators and parents who have experience with this student. Based on their invaluable experience, they are telling you what works, and what doesnít work for him.
- Based on that knowledge, the plan provides modifications that have proven to be effective and necessary for the success of this child.
So, what is an IEP? It is a precious gift that has been handed to you, in advance. It provides you with significant information about that child. It should be used to your advantage to tweak your own teaching strategies and plans to meet those needs. The entire document is about educators making modifications to meet the needs of a disables student. Not about expecting the student to make changes to meet the needs of the educator.
If you are not making modifications based on that information, you do not understand the meaning of the document, and you are not providing the student with the appropriate education that they are entitled to.
If you understand the purpose of the information, you can use it to your advantage. Effective modifications do not have to demand a lot of time or effort on your part to make a dramatic difference in the success of the student. Furthermore, you will relieve ongoing frustration for yourself, the educators ahead of you, the student and the parents.