What I Learned About IEP Meetings From the Other Side of the Table
Teaching children with exceptionalities has been my passion, career and life for many years. Little did I know my career and personal life would cross over. The transition from special education teacher to special education stay-at-home mom left me feeling like I was entering the special education world for the first time.
The world of special needs was completely new to me, even though I kept hearing, “Oh, you are a special education teacher so this isn’t new for you,” or “How wonderful that you have that background as a mom.” The moment my 2-year-old son, Milo, was diagnosed with autism, my mind went blank, and I was truly a newbie.
One day I was sure I would excel at was truly the most eye-opening day for me as an educator. I quickly knew that my education had not prepared me for my son’s first IEP, although this was a day I had said would come easy to me because I had done it so many times before.
With this in mind, there are four things I want teachers to know from the parent perspective:
1. Give us time.
It was always hard for me to understand why parents wouldn’t send in the pre-paperwork on time or even at all. It would take weeks if not months to narrow down a date to meet.
I knew exactly what that big package was when it arrived. I put it on the counter and put my catalogs over it. If I couldn’t see it, it wasn’t real, right? Opening mail addressed to the Parents of _____________ has been a daily reminder that my now-3-year-old is not typical. We receive mail daily from therapists, case workers, the county education office, the school district, etc. It is at times overwhelming. We have to schedule every meeting with such precision. I have to make sure it fits in with 20-plus hours of therapy a week, make sure my husband has the time off and find a babysitter for my newborn. It is not easy.
2. Walk into the meeting with the parent.
I walked into the meeting and saw 16 case workers, teachers and a variety of behavioral and developmental therapists staring at me. I quickly became overcome with anxiety and emotion, and I instantly felt lost. My knees were weak, my voice shook and I had tears in my eyes. As a teacher, I will always walk into the meeting with the parent.
3. Do not skip “basic info” pages.
We started the meeting by skipping over the first page of my son’s IEP. It had our names, address and basic information on it. As a teacher, I understand why this would not be a page to take much time for, but it was my hardest page to get through. It was the first time I had seen an IEP with my son’s name on it. His name was printed small, the word autism was in bold next to his name. I needed a few minutes to digest it, to understand it, to accept it. While going through the next few pages, it was the only thing I thought about, therefore leaving me in a fog for the majority of the meeting.
4. Don’t judge parents for calling and asking questions afterward.
I left my son’s IEP with such mixed emotions. I was trying to comprehend what had just happened in the past few hours as I was holding back tears and trying to stay focused. I realized I had quickly judged too many parents for calling after the meeting asking questions. I was quick to think, We just went over this. But I was one of those parents who called for many days, with many questions.
I learned I knew all the laws, what boxes needed to be checked and what questions to ask the parents. I had not known how necessary it was to be an emotional supporter to the parent. I learned the little efforts are not so little.
I will walk in with the parents and walk them out. I will never skip over anything, I will follow up, I will call, I will shake hands and I will hug.
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