I have been up to my elbows and eyeballs in annual reviews. I’m doing a bunch of my own this week, as well as acting as LEA for several others. Some teachers have reviews that go smoothly and amazing well. Some need a bit of help. And some are absolute disasters. It is this last category that results in headaches for everyone and unfortunately it happens all too often. There are many reasons why an annual review can go poorly, but I find the single biggest factor is in preparation. The more preparation, the better the meeting goes. The less preparation, the worse it goes.
The most hideous meetings I ever attended was at a middle school. I was the high school representative and drove half way across the county to get there. Once I got there, I had to wait nearly an hour because other meetings were running late. Fortunately the parent was not there, as the teacher was anxious to postpone which I thumbed down. I made her call the parent and get permission to hold it, which the parent was happy to do. Then the IEP was not filled out. We had to bang it all out there. Oy. Or another middle school meeting where I arrived, and the parent and itinerants and everyone was there except the caseload teacher. Where was she? In her classroom trying to type the goals and other parts, thus making us all wait. Or, yet another middle school meeting where I was late because the one I was attending across the hall ran late. When I walked into the crowded room, the parents were visibly fuming and the tension was so thick everyone was about ready to suffocate. This was because the teacher had made some careless comment and now the parents were loaded for bear.
In each of these situations, even though none of these were my students and this was not even my school or my meeting, I managed to help salvage the situation from potential disaster. Even the middle school LEAs and graduation coaches seemed at a loss as to how to handle these situations. In the first case, we were able to bang out the IEP in about an hour once I overcame the team’s reluctance. It was the last meeting of the day and everyone wanted to go home. But my general rule is the death is about the only reason to postpone…or an attorney, which is practically the same as death. It takes an enormous amount of coordination to get all the players in the same room at the same time. Don’t blow it. In the second instance, I got the teacher to just print out what she had plus the previous year’s IEP….after problems with the printer. This is why waiting until the last minute courts disaster, and Murphy WILL move in and take up residence. In the final case, I discovered there were things in the IEP that were negotiable enough for the parents that they could walk out less mad. They still did not like that teacher, but at least felt better about high school transition.
An IEP is often treated like a court case just waiting to happen. And it is not a bad idea to view it as such when writing one. But you can not become so paralyzed with fear that you end up avoiding it. It must be done, so you might as well grab it and run with vigor to get it done. It is daunting but not impossible to write a decent IEP that will serve the student well without causing either the school or the parents to feel like they have been robbed. I have suggestions right here in my blog that might be useful for both parents and teachers.
This is one field where experience really does count as long as it is good experience. Someone who can write a proper, legal IEP can save the school thousands in litigation costs. A teacher who knows how to talk to parents without ticking them off can save an administrator countless headaches. A competent teacher who can actually teach the students can help the school meet its goals and the all important AYP. I have seen all too often what happens when a teacher is incompetent. People get frustrated, corners are cut and then parents are ready to go to an attorney.
An experienced, competent teacher is also more likely to stick around, as long as minimum efforts are made to retain him/her. I’ll talk about retention in a future post, but experience does help endure future obstacles and deteriorating conditions at least up to a point. I was able to handle a caseload larger than any other SID/PID teacher in the county with less help than any other teacher by virtue of my experience and tenacious commitment to NOT allow anything to happen that would endanger the students. Over time I developed experience enough to keep little things from turning into big things and when a big problem came along I learned how to handle a fair number of those. And finally, I learned to recognize when something was too big for me to handle and that I needed to ask for assistance fro m people paid to handle the bigger problems. Those are all skills that you can learn only through experience. In special education, there are a ton of judgment calls that we are called on to make because there is not a set textbook way of handling our students. That is what makes it “special!”