Any special needs parent will tell you that one of the most difficult things to navigate in their child’s life is the IEP. For those who do not know the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a mandated program through the federal government. Unlike doctors, treatments or therapies you might not prescribe to the IEP is something you cannot get out of if you are in the public school system and your child has learning difficulties.
This is a good thing, at face value, as the IEP is supposed to provide the foundation of our child’s education, provide safeguards and goals for success. Let’s face it, Bridget isn’t going to be able to count to 10 like the typical preschooler. The IEP puts mechanisms in place to make sure she is taught in a way for her to be successful.
But shouldn’t that be the case for all children? Maybe Ben doesn’t have a learning disability. He struggles in math but loves sports. So his teacher (or parents) teach him percentages using the Bruins stats. Okay, maybe the Bruins aren’t the best example this season. (Don’t worry Black & Gold I’m optimistic).
Ben shouldn’t need an IEP and I believe any true teacher agrees with me. Teachers do the best they can with very limited resources to make sure every child is successful in their class. They don’t need a mandate to do their jobs.
And here is why the IEP process sucks.
Because it is a box-checking system. Without an IEP a teacher can say this is how I teach deal with it. Ben struggles and begins to hate math. It will take either an IEP or a teacher who has dedication. Any teacher will tell you time is in short supply. They are doing their best to teach the State standards while maintaining discipline and enthusiasm of their student. They hear from the parent if Ben is not getting an “A” not knowing if he has even completed his homework but gets no thanks if the teacher goes in early or stays after to help Ben succeed.
Good teachers are held back from using their innovation. Bad teachers decide to just follow the IEP to the letter (or box checked). Parents are confused because they do not know what to ask. They are navigating the special education system without a Master’s degree, without training and without a net. A parent leaves the IEP meeting feeling overwhelmed, scared and inadequate.
Well, most parents do. I count myself lucky that I have only cried at one IEP meeting. That even with my tears, Bridget’s team rallied around me and gave voice to my fears. That when I am unsure how to proceed, they guide me. When I ask for something they cannot provide they offer reasons and alternatives.
Our IEP is a collaborate effort. I do not know why others have such difficulty. I do know that our child’s success depends on me being on the team. I might nitpick some of the IEP requests, but they know it is because if the school system changes or if Bridget’s team does we need that safety net. Parents are the child’s best advocate. They need to be listened to, but they also need to listen. They need to find out what the school can offer and what is a pipe dream (like mine, having Bridget stay in pre-K until her teacher retires 40 years from now).
I just wish we didn’t need a net. That teachers and parents were allowed to work together without the formality. That instead of taking up two hours of the Administrator’s, the Teacher’s (2 of them), the Therapists (3 of them) and my time, they could see what a child needs and provide it.
Not so much for the Bridget’s of the world whose needs are more complex. But for the child who learns differently and may not need to fit the common core box. Teachers have spent years of their life training for this moment. Maybe we should just let them teach.
Bridget having an IEP since she was three years old has allowed me to make the rookie mistakes when she is young and it doesn’t have as much impact. That won’t always be the case. I know as she ages through the system her team will change. I do hope that in whatever setting future IEP’s happen I am able to work with a collaborative team.
I wonder if I can write that into her plan?