School has started. For some students, the excitement of the beginning of a new school year is dampened by the dread of an Individualized Education Program, (IEP) meeting. I was one of those students.
The Individualized Education Program, (IEP), is a layout of academic goals and educational services students who have disabilities, need. It is written annually from Kindergarten to a student’s senior year of high school. IEP meetings summarize a student’s academic progress and goals they need to reach to be on the same level as their general education peers. The goals are based on pre-IEP test results.
An IEP meeting may have a formal and cool atmosphere. This can give staff and students a feeling of unease. IEP meetings could have a light, positive feel. This can include a relaxed, casual atmosphere and discussion of a student’s strong suits.
My meetings were serious and formal. I regularly saw teachers and counselors who attended the meetings, so I was casual when I greeted them, saying things such as, “Hi. How is it going?” and, “Hey. How you doing? Good to see you.” But then it was time to get down to business and things got serious. The seriousness gave the room a cold atmosphere. I think casual is a better approach to an IEP meeting. This can help students relax since the meetings are about them.
The first time I went to an IEP meeting, I walked in and thought, “What is this? A special ed services meeting or a parent/teacher conference?” By the way it looked, I concluded it was a parent/teacher conference that included my special education usual suspects. I stuck with that observation throughout school. However, at real parent/teacher conferences, teachers tell parents what students are doing well in. That cannot seem to be done at an IEP meeting; IEP meetings are about deficits and general education teachers hardly speak, which gives a meeting a different and negative structure.
If IEP meetings were structured like parent/teacher conferences, giving general education teachers a chance to speak, that could change the feel of the meetings, making them more positive.
It is good to talk to students during their IEP meetings, so they will feel included. It is not a good approach to talk about students as if they are not in the room. When I went to my IEP meetings, I was talked about, not to even though I was sitting at the table. While I sat at the table, I would always think, “Hey. I do have strong suits, you know.”
There was hardly any mention of my strengths at my IEP meetings. The only thing general education teachers contributed, was a quick summary of how I was doing in their class. However, if the teacher taught a subject I was strong in, that helped ease my discomfort. If general education teachers contribute to positive information about a student during an IEP meeting, that will improve their self-esteem, and create a more positive experience for the student.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the negative summary of my situation left me emotionally shaken by a feeling I had been robbed of my academic strengths. Including a focus on a student’s strengths during an IEP meeting, would help them feel uplifted.
Bottom line: It is important for educators to look at and emphasize students’ strong suits. This will help students feel they will succeed in their education even though they have disabilities.
Emma Wagner was born prematurely at 29 weeks and suffered a brain bleed three days later. It caused her to develop hydrocephalus, cerebral palsy and epilepsy. She is a graduate of St. Paul College, and lives in the Midway.