When I was going to school for my master’s degree, I took one class in which we spent a lot of time conducting mock individual education program (IEP) meetings. What I remember most was how much anxiety they caused me. Thoughts would race through my head: How am I supposed to be in this meeting when I know nothing about the student? Won’t I know a lot more about the student when I am a teacher? Why are is everyone acting so crazy? They don’t act like that in real meetings, do they?
Fast-forward to my very first IEP meeting as a special education teacher. It was two years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was very new and thought that all IEP meetings were like the ones practiced in my classes or imagined in my head. Boy, was I wrong!
This was an initial evaluation for the student, and his mother was hesitant about the whole idea of special education. When it was time for introductions around the table, I said, “Hi, I’m Theresa, the special education teacher.” The parent became so irate at the idea of her child needing special education that she rose out of her chair and stood over me in such a way that I almost felt threatened.
After a lot of explaining, the IEP team managed to calm her down. We stressed that special education is not a bad thing; it was another resource to help her child. The parent really did not want to hear what we had to say, but in the end, she did consent for her child to receive special education services. After she left, the case manager and the social worker had many laughs at my expense! They still tease me about it to this day. And thus I was “broken in” very quickly—and I am much more selective about where I sit during IEP meetings as a result.
There was also a lot of drama during the first IEP meeting of my second year of teaching. I walked into this meeting feeling a lot more confident than I did the same time the year before, especially because I knew this student really well. The student’s parent had said he would be able to attend the meeting, but then became ill, so he participated over the phone. During the meeting, the different team members gave their reports in Spanish so he could understand them; meanwhile, the case manager translated for me. I was taking some notes and nodding in agreement with what was being said . . . until a team member reported that the student “did not know anything.”
When that was translated, I paused and looked at the case manager to make sure I heard correctly—and I had. That’s when my jaw hit the table. I quickly reassured the parent that his child, while not on grade level, had made many gains in the past year. For example, the student was now able to add and subtract to 20 without assistance, could write basic sight words, and knew the alphabet in both English and Spanish. The rest of the meeting was really a blur; I could not wait to get out of there.
I went back to the case manager’s office on my lunch and apologized for my unprofessional reaction to what was said during the meeting; I just had not expected to hear a comment like that. Both the case manager and social worker said that my reaction was priceless, that my facial expression was funny.
Because of my unforgettable experiences, I am always relieved when such meetings go as planned and there are no major surprises. In fact, I have created a short list of rules that I adhere to when I have an IEP meeting:
- Pick your seat carefully.
- Be aware of your facial expressions.
- Always expect the unexpected.
I hope that my first IEP meeting of this school year is not as exciting as the ones from the last two years! However, I do not mind if it gets a little crazy—at least it will give me another story to share.
What are your most memorable IEP meeting moments? What tips do you have for making these meetings successful?