Saturday, September 29, 2012

Parents and the IEP

I have a question regarding education. My son is 10 1/2 (he was born on the same day as Emma from emmashopebook) and he is attending 6 grade special school. He is still working on his literacy, and his IEP for this year has only 9 letters. I feel that he can do more, but his teacher assessed him as challenged in both expressive and receptive language, especially in receptive and also as cognitively impaired, so she things that he is not capable of handling more. My question here would be how much I can rely on the teacher's assessment? What are your experience while at school? Were the teachers able to assess you fairly and were your classes tailored as per your abilities? Should I be more assertive with my opinion, having in mind that I am not an expert, but again I should know him best? But do I really know him best since he does have limited vocabulary and it is true that one can not read much out of his facial expression and so.

As an educator whose primary responsibility is to prepare teachers, I want to let you know that one of the first things I, and many of my colleagues, make sure to do is give pre-service teachers the gift of being aware of one of the most important educational resources on the planet: parents.

Not all teachers learn that parents are resources, and some teachers are afraid of you.  I believe this is because in society the way it is now, at least in the US, and it would not surprise me if this also applies in Macedonia, things are set up so people are at odds, at opposite sides of the table, suspicious of each other, not really playing for the same team.

Some parents may believe that teachers are untouchable experts who know more than them, but some parents may also in turn believe that teachers are people who do not care about their children.  In this country, there is a large amount of media imagery to convince the onlooker that teachers in general do not care about children--imagery created primarily for economic rather than educational reasons--but I find the uncaring teacher (though we have seen some breathtaking true examples lately!) to be more the exception than the rule.  At any rate, either way of thinking about teachers will lead you, as a parent, not to speak up at the IEP meeting.  Anyone seeing these reasons can imagine why.

Some teachers may believe that all parents are of the opinion that teachers are uncaring and also stupid.  Some of them believe that if they listen to parents too much, it is a set-up for a lawsuit.  There are also some unfortunate teachers who seem to believe that parents do not know their own children, or that parents think their children are angels of perfection but they cannot really see them; but I also find that when they think it through, this too is rare.  These kinds of beliefs will lead teachers to avoid opportunities to ask parents for input when creating IEP goals.  Anyone seeing these reasons can imagine why.

Seeing the reasons people do not work well on teams for the children helps to understand why it is happening, but seeing what is really more likely to be true in real life, I hope, will help people work better together.  This essay is a simplified version but I am hoping that anyone who reads it will have an easier time in IEP meetings from now on.

In real life, parents know their children very well and are an excellent resource for teachers when it comes to understanding the kids as individual people, which is something we should all want to strive for doing to a T.  In countries such as the United States where teachers are becoming economically devalued, parents can also be a tremendous ally in other ways.  (Just a little something to think about if you are a teacher.)

In real life, teachers decided to become teachers instead of choosing other careers for a constellation of reasons, one of the chief ones more than likely being because they care about children.  Then, they embarked on an educational path which gave them specific pedagogical expertise.  Many teachers have chosen to get advanced degrees and are very passionate about keeping up with the literature and conferences allowing them to stay abreast of the most excellent ways to teach children and help them succeed.  Their work conditions are becoming steadily worse in many places for economic reasons and they frequently purchase school supplies out of pocket in order to keep up the necessary educational experiences for the students.  (If you are a parent, there may be a multitude of ways to help in the classroom in addition to being the one who knows your child best.)

In real life, a child is a little person.  In order to do the best job teaching him or her, ideally you want the best of everything.  You want the best of pedagogical knowledge and education skills that a teacher can bring, but is that enough?  Not quite.  You want to really know that kid, know what makes him or her tick.  Is that enough, by itself?  Not usually.  But when you put those two things together, magic can happen.  This is what happens when great teachers work with great parents: You have both things together.  And everyone learns a little something... and the child learns a lot.  And that is who we are there for.

You asked about my educational experiences.  There's a book coming out called Both Sides of The Table edited by Phil Smith in which I have written a chapter about my life in school, which says more.  But I'll give you a tiny relevant preview that fits here, about two people I can pinpoint making a huge difference, and when it happened, and what happened.

First let me say this: my parents absolutely helped out at school and got involved and told their truth.  So that is why my mother was there to notice up close when an absolutely magnificent teacher came to our school.  She was the school librarian, Mrs. Gladstone.  To make a long story very short, Mrs. Gladstone (Beau) is my mother's best friend, and I am here now writing an Educational Blog.

Maja, I think you should give the teachers the benefit of your wisdom, in a spirit of friendship, and see how things work out from there.  Meanwhile, I will be researching the second part of your question, about bilingualism (the literature I know has bilingualism being useful instead of confusing but I want to be optimally thorough and useful).  Tell me how everything goes!!

All the best,


  1. Many thanks, Ib. Just to let you know that I saw your post, I will reply to you in detail tomorrow.
    Sunday is usually DJ's "jour de bonheur" which means that we spent a lot of time together and by extend, no Internet for me:)
    Talk to you tomorrow at lenght.
    Once again, that you very much

    1. Today I am going to write an answer about the English. It is another issue, I think, other than the bilingual issue, and I have been thinking about this a great deal.

  2. Dear Maja,

    Jour de bonheur sounds like a wonderful thing! I look forward to hearing more from you. :)