Guest Author - Diane Miller
This is the second 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. Teaching a student with an Individual Education Program doesnít have to be a frustrating experience. If everyone involved takes the time to determine the meaning of the document, we can all work together to create a positive, rewarding outcome for everyone involved.
In part one, we talked about the purpose of the IEP, the meaning of the information within the document, and how educators can use that information to relieve frustrations instead of creating more.
In this issue, we are going to discuss another issue that can contribute to frustrations for educators working with IEPís:
I think we all have some level of preconceived notions and misunderstandings when it comes to special education and disabilities. After all, these involve some really complicated aspects that are frequently pretty foreign to us all.
If you are an educator who has developed a negative philosophy about IEPís, you owe it to yourself to take a second look. In order to be effective for yourself and these students, you need to be able to leave ALL preconceived notions at the door. This is especially significant for those involving students with learning disabilities.
I have been in your shoes. I know that these disorders can be really difficult to understand. I too, was one who questioned their very existence. That is, until I lived it.
Let me give you the following scenario to help you step into the shoes of families working through these types of disorders:
For many of us, we get married, and at some point we start thinking about starting a family. We imagine our pregnancy and how cute we will look in maternity fashion. We can picture the nursery with a pink canopy hanging over the crib. Then, there is the baby. We make casual observations of others who have gone before us. We make proud declarations as to how our own child will and will not act, or appear. These are the preconceived notions.
Then, it happens; we get that ďpositiveĒ sign, and the games begin. We develop nausea, indigestion, and stretch marks. By the third trimester, we no longer look cute in these clothes and we CAN understand how someone could gain that much weight. Then, we bring home our little bundle of joy. We dress her in the adorable little dress, with matching socks and attach a tiny pink bow to the little curl of hair right at the top of her head. And one by one, sooner or later, to some degree, we eat every word of our previous declarations one syllable at a time. Her diaper leaked all over the dress, one sock is in the floor of the car and the other, in the driveway. She sneezed so hard that the bow flew off of her head and is dangling on her ear, which really isnít so bad compared to the long string of snot that is now running from her nose to her chin. Eventually, we realize that it doesnít matter how we think life should be. These tiny little creatures have an agenda all their own. It makes no difference if it does or does not fit with ours. While some children require fewer lifestyle modifications and others more, we all have to make some degree of change in OUR lives to fit THEREíS, not the other way around. This is the reality.
Learning disorderís work largely the same way. There are preconceived notions and then there is reality. Just because you have not experience it first hand does not mean that it does not happen exactly the way we describe. Disabilities and learning disorders can cause some odd behaviors and problems. They have their own set of rules with a separate agenda. If we expect THEM to change to fit OUR needs, we are going to be really disappointed and frustrated. Do not look at an IEP and make a blanket declaration that you could have done it better in their shoes. Donít make the uneducated conclusion that the symptoms make no sense, and therefore are a result of poor parenting and not some disorder.
If you are an educator who looks at IEPís and learning disorders in this way, you will never be successful in teaching these students. These students will always be a source of frustration for you, and worse, you will always be a source of frustration for them. Not only will you fail to alleviate the problems associated with the IEP but you will cause them to increase. You owe it to yourself, your peers, your students and their families to learn about these disorders and the difficulties associated. Call your states Department of Education and ask if they have any information, or upcoming workshops for teachers regarding LDís or IEPís. Visit your local library or just get on-line.
Keeping an open mind about the disabilities and LDís involved in IEP development is as essential as the document itself. You have to understand the problem that the modification has been created for, before you can possibly make it effective. That understanding combined with the information in the IEP provides you with a virtual instruction manual for educating that student. When you overcome these two hurdles, you will make huge progress for yourself, the educators ahead of you, the student and the parents.