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By: Melanie Taylor
Am I required to attend IEP meetings if I am not a Special Education teacher? I've been asked that more than once as the Special Education teacher, and especially as a Resource Specialist, also known as Special Academic Instructor.The answer in our state is that at least one general education teacher who has the student on his/her caseload needs attend any IEP (Individualized Education Program) whether it be qualifying (evaluating to see if the student will enter Special Education), annual (the once a year assessment), triennial (every third year the educational psychologist also assesses), or an addendum which is called for a unique reason at any time. However, the better school sites have the entire teaching team there. The teachers at my middle school were very dedicated (and wanted to keep their positions) and supported the Special Ed. kids very effectively with attendance.
Here are some tips to having a productive IEP meeting:
What should I bring to the IEP as the General Education teacher?
1. Bring a calm and caring attitude. Parents are always concerned about their kid. Even if you as the classroom instructor have concerns, even serious ones, about the child’s performance or behavior, a general education teacher must show a caring attitude and a calm demeanor. Even if you must fly out of the meeting at the speed of heat to finish your day's responsibilities--you are so very important to that parent and child that every bit of body language as well as spoken words means the world, and focusing on the positive will get things done more efficiently.
2. Bring your expertise and evidence of it. All teachers have grade books (on-line or otherwise), lesson plans, records of phone calls and communication to the parent, and copies of referrals and time-outs. Just be ready with this information and how to explain the ebb and flow of your classroom. Please have some positive comments to show you know little Johnny and how well he demonstrates a skill, reveals a talent or interest, or did something right in class. If little Janie is lacking, the parent should already have communicated with you because you called, or sent information home. The Special Education teacher should already know, too, if this is a big deal (actually, even a little deal.) The team of teachers plus family can really make it happen for a kid, and communication with coordination is the key.
3. How should I interact at the meeting? There is a sequence to IEP meetings. When it is your turn, be ready to explain your testing and grading system, including homework. The child's future hinges on what you do, how you grade, and if you offer help. The parent needs to know how you grade. Is there make up work? A Special Education student usually is not an independent learner, even if they have the intelligence to do the work, due to a visual or auditory learning handicap and/or ADHD or one of its forms. Do you offer homework help? Test retakes? Tutoring? When and where? The Math Department at my last school was remarkable in the regular, systematic help for all kids. And it got results.
4. I Don't Feel Prepared For This--What Should I Do? Coordinate with the Special Education teacher. I cannot adequately explain how complex, detailed and mind-boggingly intense all this Special Ed. stuff is. But it is to your advantage as a general education teacher to share information with the RSP or SAI teacher. Most Special Ed. teachers are type B personalities (myself included) and won't bully or force anyone to do anything. But there is expertise there, and one suggestion from a Special Education professional may change a classroom situation for the better. And frequently there are Behavior Plans to implement for a rascal. The teaching team wants to keep on the right side of legalities, having i's dotted and t's crossed. Of course, first and foremost, we want to help the kids. A Special Education teacher has district personnel resources and knowledge that can really help.