22 Jan


The most important part of any special educational program is the IEP.  This is the key document that will govern what can and cannot be done with a child during the coming year.  It determines what will be taught, where it will be taught and somewhat who will be doing the teaching.


Now that I have a new student, preparing for this IEP is job #1.  And step #1 is getting as much information from the parent as possible.  I want to know what a parent’s dreams and aspirations for this child.  I want to know what he can do.  I want to know what the parent struggles with at home and in the community.  What issues does the parent have?  While academic and adaptive skills in school are important, the parent is with this child pretty much forever.  Teachers come and go.  School eventually ends.  What happens beyond school?  This is so critical.  Even at the preschool level, we need to have an eye on post-school transition.  They may be in school through the age of 21 or 22 (In Michigan, through 26) but if they live even a modest life span, they will spend the majority of their lives out of school.  There is NO legislation governing post-school placement.  No one HAS to take them.  They can spend YEARS waiting for placement in a group home after school.  Even DECADES!


Getting parents to think about this bigger picture is important.  The only reason I’m so intense on it is because I am a parent of two young ones beginning the process.  But I teach students at the end.  I am the undertaker and the pall bearer of the special education process.  I’m the last school teacher many students and parents will ever have.  Do I simply try to console them and make their passing as comfortable as possible while I wait for retirement and my pension?  Or do I keep fighting and advocating?  I hope to do the latter, but the temptation to do the former is quite powerful.  I know what lies beyond, and it is almost too grim to think about.  Graduation day for special education students, if they graduate at all, is not the happy time it is for typical students.  While all students have some anxiety, those graduating from special education face even more daunting challenges.  And for my students, the parents bear the entire burden.  The law is gone.  The mandate for accommodations and services is gone.  Free and reduced lunches…GONE.  Teachers and paras and administrators that can be sued…GONE.  The IEP with its mandate for services, supports, accommodations, plans and goals…GONE.  This system of support vaporizes in a single day.


There are services out there, but these are mere husks of what existed in the school system.  As teachers, the responsibility can be overwhelming if we think too much about it.  As parents, it’s easier to live in the present struggle and keep pushing those thoughts away.  We don’t want to face it.  We can keep hoping for quite awhile, that things will eventually turn out “normal.”  Again, I do face the enormous temptation of denial.  Denial exists because it feels comfortable, and I admit to taking refuge there more times than not.  But I know the day is coming.


So during the IEP and assessment process, I am measuring the parent as well as the student.  I need to know how prepared the parent is, and help them along.  But unlike most of my colleagues, I have a lot more compassion and understanding as well as a sense of urgency.  Every student represents a possibility.  I look into a parent’s eyes and see my own future.  I respect and admire them all, even seemingly uninterested and uninvolved ones.  There is no possible way they have an easy life.  Can I blame them for trying to take shortcuts?  I don’t blame them for not showing up to IEPs as the system, despite safeguards, is stacked against them.  My oldest is in kindergarten and I’M sick of it already!!


I’m sure I’ll write more on this later on.  I don’t have any students graduating this year, but a bunch going next year.  At that time, there will be much more to say. 





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